The name Kolkata and erstwhile Calcutta have their roots in Kalikata, the name of one of the three villages - Kalikata, Sutanuti,Govindapur, in the area before the arrival of the British. "Kalikata", in turn, is believed to be a version of Kalikshetra, "Land of the goddess Kali". Some believe that city name is derived from the Bengali term kilkila ("flat area").
In 2001, its official English name changed from "Calcutta" to "Kolkata" reflecting a prevalent Bengali pronunciation and pride.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited for over two millennia. But the entries in annals of records begin with the arrival of the English East India Company in 1690 to strengthen its trade business in Bengal. The British constructed Fort William in 1702 so as to station its troops and use it as a regional base. Later on Calcutta was declared as a Presidency city and later became the headquarters of Bengal presidency. The British faced frequent skirmishes with the French forces and spread their military base. The Nawab of Bengal Siraj-Ud-Daula protested against this militarization. When his pleas went unheeded he attacked and captured Fort William. In the following year, Robert Clive recaptured the city defeating and killing Siraj-Ud-Daula.
In 1772, the Calcutta was declared the capital of British India, although the capital shifted to the hilly town of Shimla during the summer months every year. Richard Wellesley, the Governor General was instrumental in architectural forays and sound developments that earned city the famed description "City of Palaces." Later the city was bifurcated into two areas - British (known as White Town) and Indian (known as Black Town). Kolkata went under rapid industrial growth from the 1850s.
Throughout the nineteenth century, a socio-cultural reform, often referred to as the Bengal Renaissance resulted in the general uplifting of the people. In 1883, Surendranath Banerjee organised a national conference — the first of its kind in nineteenth century India. Gradually Calcutta became a centre of the Indian independence movement, especially revolutionary organisations. The 1905 Partition of Bengal on communal grounds resulted in widespread public agitation and the boycott of British goods (Swadeshi movement).  These activities, along with the administratively disadvantageous location of Calcutta in the eastern fringes of India, prompted the British to move the capital to New Delhi in 1911.
During World War II, the city and its port bore aerial attacks by the Japanese several times. Bengal famine of 1943 inflicted severe strain on the economy and health engulfing many lives. Again in 1946, demands for the creation of a Muslim state led to large-scale communal violence.
In 1971, war between India and Pakistan led to the mass influx of thousands of refugees into Kolkata resulting in a massive strain on its infrastructure. Kolkata has been a strong base of Indian communism as West Bengal has been ruled by the Left Front for 32 years now - the world's longest-running democratically elected Communist government. The city's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India introduced by the central government in the mid-1990s. Since 2000, Information Technology (IT) services have revitalized the city’s stagnant economy. The city is also experiencing a growth in the manufacturing sector.