The sunsets over Parliament House, Canberra.

The sunsets over Parliament House, Canberra. Photo: Karleen Minney

Imagine if our city had been called Federalia. Or Acacia, Harmony, Labourville, Cooksturta or even Frontierland.

What if it had been called Paradise?

These are just a few of the suggestions sent to the Federal Department for Home Affairs before Canberra's official naming in 1913.

A clipping from a newspaper article on the naming of Canberra

A clipping from a newspaper article on the naming of Canberra

An article published in The West Australian 100 years ago ran what was reportedly the "full list of suggestions" of names from members of the public keen to have a say in the creation of the new national capital.

According to the article, the names were sent in from all over the country, as well as from England and other countries, and ranged from the earnest (Commonwealth Circular City or Regina) to the ridiculous (Climax or Back Spur) to the downright sinister (Aryan City).

Interestingly, Canberra and Federalia, both early and late frontrunners in the official decision, crop up in the list, while Myola, an official favourite, does not.

Official historian for the Canberra centenary David Headon said the process of choosing the name for Canberra was shrouded in secrecy, but the Australian public certainly took a keen interest.

''We do know that [then prime minister Andrew] Fisher's favourite was Myola,'' Dr Headon said. ''I've come across nothing that says it as a certainty, but the problem with Myola was he was never a great admirer of [fellow politician King] O'Malley and [Myola] was a near-anagram of O'Malley, according to the goss."

He said the department had been so inundated with suggestions, some 700 or 800 by the day of the official announcement of the new city's name, that it began logging them and assigning each contributor a number.

"They took it that seriously. I don't know how much influence it had, but it was taken notice of. We know that certainly in that list of the public, Federalia and Canberra were very strong … but certainly Canberra always had support from the locals."

All contemporary federal politicians were also given a say, and Canberra was again a favourite, although the previous prime minister, George Reid, had favoured Pacifica.

The decision was made perilously late, but the process was not guarded enough to prevent an old-fashioned media leak, with The Sydney Morning Herald revealing Canberra as the capital's name on the morning of the official announcement.

Dr Headon said it was interesting to discern the different categories of names suggested, from the botanical - there were several iterations of Wattle - to the utopian, such as Peace, Harmony and Perfection.

"You had the people quite obviously with noble aspirations, with things like Acacia and Eucalypta, Federalia, Federata and Eureka for obvious reasons. And then there were those with little sense of the aesthetic and symbolic demands of Commonwealth nomenclature - Kangaemu, Cookaburra, Boomerang City. It's interesting because definitely that notion of echo in the Aboriginal language is very strong."

He said the popular theory that Canberra was an "Aboriginal word for meeting place" was more modern political correctness than fact, although there was probably some strain of local Aboriginal dialect in the final version.

"What we do know from the records is that early - and we're talking 1830s, 1840s - there were Aboriginal words that were very close to what was finally spelt as Canberra."

These included a word for "meeting place" and one referring to a woman's breasts - in Canberra's case, Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie.