In Arabic, both cities are known as 'Tadmur'. Tadmur is the Semitic and earliest attested native name of the city; it appeared in the first half of the second millennium BC. The etymology of "Tadmur" is vague; Albert Schultens considered it to be derived from the Semitic word for dates ("Tamar"),[note 1] in reference to the palm trees that surround the city.[note 2] 13th century Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi states Tadmur was the name of the daughter of one of Noah's distant descendants and that she was buried in the city.
In English and other European languages, the ancient and modern cities are commonly known as "Palmyra". The name "Palmyra" appeared during the early first century AD, in the works of Pliny the Elder, and was used throughout the Greco-Roman world. The general view holds that "Palmyra" is derived from "Tadmur" either as an alteration, which was supported by Schultens,[note 3] or as a translation using the Greek word for palm ("palame", παλάμη),[note 4] which is supported by Jean Starcky. Michael Patrick O'Connor argued for a Hurrian origin of both "Palmyra" and "Tadmur", citing the incapability of explaining the alterations to the theorized roots of both names, which are represented in the adding of a -d- to "Tamar" and a -ra- to "palame". According to this theory, "Tadmur" is derived from the Hurrian word "tad", meaning "to love", + a typical Hurrian mid vowel rising (mVr) formant "mar". "Palmyra" is derived from the word "pal", meaning "to know", + the same mVr formant "mar".
There is a Syriac etymology for Tadmor, referring to dmr "to wonder", and Tedmurtā (Aramaic: ܬܕܡܘܪܬܐ) "Miracle"; thus Tadmūra means "object of wonder", most recently affirmed by Franz Altheim and Ruth Altheim-Stiehl (1973), but rejected by Jean Starcky (1960) and Michał Gawlikowski (1974).