Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham, England. 3 times when they were mistaken for one another

Birmingham Alabama skyline from TJ Tower
The Birmingham, Alabama skyline (Photo by Jon Eastwood for Bham Now)

Birmingham, Alabama was named after Birmingham, England (the UK’s second largest city). It may not be that surprising given our British namesake was a major industrial center which city founders wanted to achieve here with iron and steel production. The cities are unique – but have there been cases of mistaken identity due to sharing a name? Let’s find out.

Both Birmingham’s are similar in size and have an industrial past.

While our city is nicknamed ‘Magic City’ due to the rapid speed it was founded and developed, Birmingham, England (established in the 6th century) is often called ‘Brum’ and locals are called Brummies.

Although spelled the same, it’s pronounced ‘Birming-HAM’ here in Alabama, while across the pond they pronounce it as ‘Birming-AM’.

As a Brit in the US, I quickly had to learn how to pronounce Birmingham all over again following some confused looks!

Birmingham Bullring and church
Birmingham, UK (Photo by Gavin Warrens)

I’ve been to the UK city a few times. Both have some similarities in terms of featuring a mix of modern building designs alongside beautiful historic architecture, and experiencing a recent resurgence from their industrial past.

Further similarities are emerging, with Birmingham, England being home to two professional soccer clubs (Birmingham City FC and Aston Villa FC) and being the hub of Cricket in England. Both sports have developed great followings here in Alabama.

Wouldn’t it be great if Birmingham could play an exhibition game against Birmingham in the future?

Confused? Well, some people have genuinely been caught out by the same name. Here are some examples.

Three times when one Birmingham was confused for one another

1) Birmingham, Alabama used by UK counterpart on public information leaflets

In 2008, Birmingham City Council (UK) printed 720,000 leaflets celebrating their recycling success.

Recycling Leaflet Birmingham City Council
Birmingham (UK) recycling leaflet (Photo via BBC)

It wasn’t until they were sent out to residents that somebody noticed the skyline was in fact ours!

They do say there’s no such thing as bad publicity and the leaflet made national news in the UK, which means nearly 80 million people had the opportunity to see our beautiful skyline and receive an important reminder to recycle.

Note to self – always check pictures before publishing.

So what does the actual skyline of Birmingham (UK) looks like? Do you think they’re similar?

Birmingham, UK (Photo by Jimmy Guano) 

2) Ohio man enters cycle race in the wrong country – but goes anyway!

John Hoopingarner photo via Velo Birmingham Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham, England. 3 times when they were mistaken for one another
John Hoopingarner, from Ohio, competing in the Velo Birmingham event in England (Photo via Velo Birmingham)

In 2017, cyclist John Hoopingarner from Sharon Center, Ohio entered what he believed would be a cycling race here in the south. Unfortunately he mistook the location.

John told at the time “I got an email saying ‘Velo Birmingham is coming’, so I just assumed it was America”.

John explained “I was still thinking it was Birmingham, Alabama, but when I found out it was Birmingham UK, I thought that I’m already signed up and I’ve got my place, I may as well just go and enjoy it.”

John made a vacation out of it and he completed the race – what a great spirit!

Somebody needs to tell John to come visit BHM with his bicycle.

3) BHM or BHX? Make sure you know your airport codes when booking flights!

Man and woman smiling
Richella Heekin and Ben Marlowe (Photo via BBC)

In 2016, a couple in Birmingham, England thought they were getting a great deal when Richella Heekin booked a Vegas vacation to celebrate boyfriend, Ben Marlowe’s 30th birthday.

Unfortunately Richella accidentally selected Birmingham, Alabama (airport code BHM) and not Birmingham, England (airport code BHX).

Imagine turning up excitedly for your flight and realizing you’re 4,300 miles away from the correct departure airport!

It all worked out though. Their story went viral after they thought they’d lost their vacation and Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic offered them a Vegas vacation departing from Manchester (UK).

But it didn’t end there for Richella and Ben – generous members of the business community in Birmingham, Alabama and tourism officials coordinated a whistle stop 36 hour trip to Birmingham to coincide with their vacation, with the couple saying “We don’t want to leave! Can we stay? Will you have us?!”

They got to stay at The Redmont Hotel, see a Birmingham Barons Baseball game (Ben got to throw the first pitch), they visited Vulcan Park and Museum, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, raced around the track at Barber Motorsports Park, they tried Zip Lining at Red Mountain Park, and used Zyp Bikes around town, before having dinner at Bottega, visiting breweries and seeing a concert at Iron City!

Wow – now that’s a tour to do next time my friends from the UK are in town!

Downtown Birmingham as seen from Vulcan Park and Museum
Birmingham from Vulcan (Photo by Jon Eastwood)

Have you ever mistaken Birmingham, Alabama for Birmingham, UK? Let us know!

I’ll admit that I nearly have!

As a British transplant to Alabama, I still receive email notifications about upcoming events in the UK. There have been occasions where I’ve excitedly told people about great bands coming to town before realizing they’ll actually be visiting the other Birmingham!

Be careful out there and remember that the US shares lots of place names with Europe. Don’t expect to see the River Seine if you accidentally book a trip to Paris, Texas!

Jon Eastwood
Jon Eastwood

Originally from Wales (UK) and a fluent Welsh speaker. Longtime sustainability and recycling champion. Former county recycling manager in the UK. Career highlights include introducing innovative recycling systems and achieving a point where households throw out trash just once a month. Competed in international coastal rowing championships and followed Wales throughout Europe in their Rugby and Soccer endeavours.

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