The ancient indigenous population of the Sicels named their villages after geographical attributes of their location. The Sicilian word, katane, means "grater, flaying knife, skinning place" or a "crude tool apt to pare". Other translations of the name are "harsh lands", "uneven ground", "sharp stones", or "rugged or rough soil". The latter etymologies are easily justifiable since, for many centuries following an eruption, the city has always been rebuilt within its black-lava landscape. Around 729 BC, the ancient village of Katane became the Chalcidian colony of Katánē where the native population was rapidly Hellenized. The Naxian founders, coming from the adjacent coast, later used the name for their new settlement along the River Amenano.
Around 263 BC, the city was variously known as Catĭna and Catăna (Greek: Κατάνη, Ancient Greek: [katánεː]; Latin: Catana, pronounced [ˈkatana], and Catina.). The former has been primarily used for its supposed assonance with catina, the Latin feminization of the name catinus. Catinus has two meanings: "a gulf, a basin or a bay" and "a bowl, a vessel or a trough", thanks to the city’s distinctive topography.
Around 900, when Catania was part of the emirate of Sicily, it was known in Arabic as Balad al-fīl (بلد الفيل) and Madinat al-fīl (مدينة الفيل). The former means "The Village (or the Country) of the Elephant", while the latter means "The City of the Elephant". The Elephant is the lava sculpture over the fountain in Piazza Duomo. Most likely a prehistoric sculpture that was reforged during the Byzantine Era, it appears to be a talisman that was reputedly powerful enough to protect the city from enemies and to keep away misfortune, plagues, or natural calamities. Another Arab toponym was Qaṭāniyyah (قطانية), allegedly from the Arabic word for the "leguminous plants". Pulses like lentils, beans, peas, broad beans, and lupins were chiefly cultivated in the plains around the city well before the arrival of Aghlabids. Afterwards, many Arabic agronomists developed these crops and the citrus orchards in the area around the city.
The toponym Wadi Musa (وادي موسى), or "Valley of Moses" (from the Arabic name of the Simeto River), was rarely used.