Guǎngzhōu is the pinyin romanisation of the Chinese name 廣州, which was simplified in mainland China to 广州 in the 1950s. The name of the city is taken from the ancient Guang Province (Guang Zhou), after it had become the prefecture's seat of government, which is how some other Chinese cities, including Hangzhou, Suzhou and Fuzhou got their names. The character 廣 or 广—which also appears in the names of the provinces Guangdong and Guangxi, together called the Liangguang—means "broad" or "expansive" and refers to the intention to dispense imperial grace broadly in the region with the founding of county of Guangxin in Han Dynasty.
Before acquiring its current name, the town was known as Panyu, a name still borne by one of Guangzhou's districts not far from the main city. The origin of the name is still uncertain, with 11 various explanations being offered, including that it may have referred to two local mountains. The city has also sometimes been known as Guangzhou Fu or Guangfu after its status as the capital of a prefecture. From this latter name, Guangzhou was known to medieval Persians such as Al-Masudi and Ibn Khordadbeh as Khanfu (خانفو). Under the Southern Han, the city was renamed Xingwang.
The Chinese abbreviation for Guangzhou is "穗" (although the abbreviation on car license plates, as with the rest of the province, is 粤), after its nickname "Rice City". The city has long borne the nickname City of Rams or City of the Five Rams from the five stones at the old Temple of the Five Immortals said to have been the sheep or goats ridden by the Taoist culture heroes credited with introducing rice cultivation to the area around the time of the city's foundation. The former name "City of the Immortals" came from the same story. The more recent City of Flowers is usually taken as a simple reference to the area's fine greenery.
The English name "Canton" derived from Portuguese Cantão or Cidade de Cantão, a muddling of dialectical pronunciations of "Guangdong" (e.g., Hakka Kóng-tûng). Although it originally and chiefly applied to the walled city, it was also used in English in reference to Guangdong generally. It was adopted as the Postal Map Romanization of Guangzhou and remained in common use until the gradual adoption of pinyin. As an adjective, it is still used in describing the people, language, cuisine and culture of Guangzhou and the surrounding Liangguang region. The 19th-century name "Kwang-chow foo" derived from Nanjing dialect of Mandarin and the town's status as a prefectural capital.