Ville (French pronunciation: [vil]) is the modern French word of Latin origin now meaning "city" or "town", but the first meaning in the Middle Ages was "farm" (from Gallo-Romance VILLA < Latin villa rustica) and then "village". The derivative suffix -ville is commonly used in English in names of cities, towns and villages.
According to toponymist George R. Stewart, the use of the suffix -ville for settlements in the United States did not begin until after the American Revolution. Previously, town-names did not usually use suffixes unless named after European towns in which case the name was borrowed wholly. When a suffix was needed, -town (or the word Town) was typically added (as in Charleston, South Carolina, originally Charles Town). In the middle of the 18th century the suffixes -borough (-boro) and -burgh (-burg) came into style. The use of -town (-ton) also increased, in part due to the increasing use of personal names for new settlements. Thus the settlement founded by William Trent became known as Trenton. These three suffixes, -town/-ton, -borough/-boro, and -burgh/-burg became popular before the Revolution, while -ville was almost completely unused until afterward. Its post-revolutionary popularity, along with the decline in the use of -town, was due in part to the pro-French sentiments which spread through the country after the war. The founding of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1780, for example, used not only the French suffix but the name of the French king. The popularity of -ville was most popular in the southern and western (Appalachian) regions of the new country, and less popular in New England.
A few -ville names pre-date the revolution, but most of them are named after European settlements or dukedoms. For example, Granville, Massachusetts was named for the Earl of Granville (he was named himself after Granville, Manche (Normandy)). After the revolution and the decline in the use of -borough and -town, the two suffixes -ville and -burgh/-burg became by far the most popular for many decades. A difference between the usage of the two is that -burgh/-burg was almost always appended to a personal name while -ville was appended to any word.
By the middle of the 19th century the -ville suffix began to lose its popularity, with newly popular suffixes with -wood, -hurst, -mere, -dale, and others taking over. However, the -ville suffix is still associated with the name of settlements and used artificially, such as Hooverville, an area where homeless people generally lived during the Great Depression.
Although a ville in the predominantly francophone Canadian province of Quebec may be informally referred to as a "city" or a "town" in English, no distinction exists under provincial law between those two types of settlements. The "city" of Montreal, with a population of 1,854,442 in the Canada 2006 Census, and the "town" of Barkmere, with a population of just 58, are both legally villes.
Quebec does have several other types of municipal status, including municipalities, townships and villages, but any distinction between cities and towns in English has no basis in law and no objective criteria to differentiate between the two. However, in villes with a large anglophone population, there may be an established--albeit informal--preference. For instance, Mount Royal is nearly always referred to as a town--as opposed to a city--by its anglophone populace.
In all other Canadian provinces, although ville is still used as the French translation for both "city" and "town", cities and towns there do have distinct legal status from each other.
As in the United States, -ville may also be a suffix that is part of a city's or a town's actual name. This usage exists in both English and French; examples include Oakville, Brockville and Belleville in Ontario, Blainville, Drummondville, Victoriaville and Louiseville in Quebec, Wolfville in Nova Scotia and Parksville in British Columbia. In Quebec, it may also be used as a prefix, as in Ville-Marie or Villeroy.
There are also places named after people, such as Villeray.