Last Updated on January 30, 2023 by Faiza Murtaza
Whether you are the type of person that goes to the mall to relax, or simply to shop for necessities, you probably never actually gave a second thought to its name. Most of us just go with it, without asking any questions. But why is it actually called this?
Popular theory may have different routes. For example, some people believe that the mall is called the mall because you aren’t going to one store – you’re going to them all. Mush those two words together, and you get “the mall.”
While that might be a good theory, history says that the etymology of the word started somewhere else – and it doesn’t just have to do with shops.
If you’re interested in other word origins like the team Flea Market, check out this awesome resource about Why is it called a Flea Market?
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A Social Street
To reach the reason why the mall is called a mall, you must go back to the 17th century – to the days when malls did not even exist. During that time, London had a tony street called “Pall Mall.” That cigarette brand Pall Mall got its name from that street and would later be sold to gentlemen frequenting the street.
During that time, Pall Mall Street was where all the social gatherings were. There were many social clubs where the gentleman would sip on their scotch and simply have a good time with fellow English companions. Like people gather today at malls, that’s how people would gather around that time at the Pall Mall.
A Just as Social Game
We know that the word “mall” had to do with the social gatherings on Pall Mall Street – but the etymology does not stop there. In fact, we are going even further, to how the street itself got the name that would inspire the shopping center.
The Pall Mall tony street received its name from an alley game that was very popular in 16th century Italy – a game that was pretty similar to today’s croquet. The game itself was pallamaglio, where palla meant “ball” and maglic meant mallet. When the French adopted the game, they called it pallemaille, and when the English adopted it, it was referred to as pall-mall.
The alleys where people would gather and play these games were referred to as “malls.” Pall Mall Street was one of those “malls,” but it was not the only one.
A Shift in Activity
As people were beginning to lose interest in the pall-mall game, they would transform the malls into fashionable areas, lined with trees and flowers. More and more open places were established for people to socialize, and the word started being associated with several public places.
Over time, the “mall” areas began to shift, and from alleys and outdoor spaces, they were converted into building complexes. To make the place more entertaining and easier to stay at all day, shops were added. There were just a few at first – but eventually, more and more activities were added until malls turned into the gargantuan places that we know today.
While it may come as a surprise for some, malls had nothing to do with shopping, but with socializing. A simple street where people would meet to play a simple game – that was the start of the mall. We can see that, over time, it went through many changes, but essentially, the socializing part remained the same.