Situated directly north of Boston, across the Charles River, it was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders.:18
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), two of the world's most prestigious universities, are in Cambridge, as was Radcliffe College, one of the leading colleges for women in the United States until it merged with Harvard on October 1, 1999.
According to the 2010 Census, the city's population was 105,162. As of July 2014, it was the fifth most populous city in the state, behind Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Lowell. Cambridge is one of the two seats of Middlesex County, although the county government was abolished in 1997; Lowell is the other.
Kendall Square in Cambridge has been called "the most innovative square mile on the planet", in reference to the high concentration of entrepreneurial start-ups and quality of innovation that have emerged there since 2010.
In December 1630, the site of what would become Cambridge was chosen because it was safely upriver from Boston Harbor, making it easily defensible from attacks by enemy ships. Thomas Dudley, his daughter Anne Bradstreet, and her husband Simon were among the town's first settlers. The first houses were built in the spring of 1631. The settlement was initially referred to as "the newe towne". Official Massachusetts records show the name rendered as Newe Towne by 1632, and as Newtowne by 1638. Located at the first convenient Charles River crossing west of Boston, Newe Towne was one of a number of towns (including Boston, Dorchester, Watertown, and Weymouth) founded by the 700 original Puritan colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Governor John Winthrop. Its first preacher was Thomas Hooker, who led many of its original inhabitants west in 1636 to found Hartford and the Connecticut Colony; before leaving, they sold their plots to more recent immigrants from England. The original village site is in the heart of today's Harvard Square. The marketplace where farmers brought crops from surrounding towns to sell survives today as the small park at the corner of John F. Kennedy and Winthrop Streets, then at the edge of a salt marsh (since filled). The town comprised a much larger area than the present city, with various outlying parts becoming independent towns over the years: Cambridge Village (later Newtown and now Newton) in 1688, Cambridge Farms (now Lexington) in 1712 or 1713, and Little or South Cambridge (now Brighton) and Menotomy or West Cambridge (now Arlington) in 1807. In the late 19th century, various schemes for annexing Cambridge to Boston were pursued and rejected.