This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (December 2008)
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The word Bergisch in the name does not originate from its location in the earldom of Berg and was not added to distinguish it from Mönchengladbach as believed by many people, but from the earls who gave their name to the region. At the start of the 12th century the earls of "Berg" settled in the area and it became the grand duchy of Berg. This is where the first part of the name (Bergisch) comes from.
The second part of the name is a lot harder to explain in English, as it originates from Low German (Bergisches Platt). The word "Gladbach" refers to the small river (the Strunde) which was artificially canalised in early medieval times. Basically the river was laid which is gelaat in Bergisch Platt, the regional dialect. During the centuries the word gelaat evolved and was rounded by the people to glad (the German 'd' is pronounced as a 't'). The second part of the word, bach is the standard German word for stream, referring in this case to the Strunde. In short, Gladbach means a canalised stream.
In 1975 the city incorporated the neighbouring Bensberg and when it reached a population of 100,000 in 1977 it was given municipality status.