The city is the capital of Kaunas County, the seat of the Kaunas city municipality and the Kaunas District Municipality. It is also the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaunas. Kaunas is located at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, and near the Kaunas Reservoir, the largest body of water entirely in Lithuania.
Before Lithuania regained independence, the city was generally known in English as Kovno, the traditional Slavicized form of its name; the Polish name is Kowno; the Belarusian name is Koўна, Kowna. An earlier Russian name was Ковно Kovno, although Каунас Kaunas has been used since 1940. The Yiddish name is קאָװנע Kovne, while its names in German include Kaunas and Kauen. The city and its elderates also have names in other languages (see Names of Kaunas in other languages and names of Kaunas elderates in other languages).
An old legend claims that Kaunas was established by the Romans in ancient times. These Romans were supposedly led by a patrician named Palemon, who had three sons: Barcus, Kunas and Sperus. Palemon fled from Rome because he feared the mad Emperor Nero. Palemon, his sons and other relatives travelled all the way to Lithuania. After Palemon's death, his sons divided his land. Kunas got the land where Kaunas now stands. He built a fortress near the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers, and the city that grew up there was named after him. There is also a suburban region in the vicinity named "Palemonas".
On 30 June 1993, the historical coat of arms of Kaunas city was established by a special presidential decree. The coat of arms features a white aurochs with a golden cross between his horns, set against a deep red background. The aurochs is the original heraldic symbol of the city since 1400. The heraldic seal of Kaunas, introduced in the early 15th century during the reign of Grand Duke Vytautas, is the oldest city heraldic seal known in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The current emblem was the result of much study and discussion on the part of the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission, and realized by the artist Raimondas Miknevičius. An aurochs has replaced a wisent, depicted in the Soviet era emblem, used since 1969.