The changes in the name of the city reflect attempts to create an English spelling that comes close to matching the pronounciation of a word that is not part of the English language. The original settlement at the location was first called Kohna, later known as Kanpur, using English spellings for the original name. Kohna was founded in 1207.
It first attracted the attention of the British around 1800, as they became aware of the importance of the location for political and business reasons. As they took firmer control and began developing connections for military and financial purposes, the colonial government changed the spelling to Cawnpore, which they considered to be a closer reproduction of the sound of the city's name.
When India attained independence in 1948, the spelling of the city's name was changed back to Kanpur, reclaiming the original anglicized spelling of the name.