During the Ottoman period, Bornova was called "Birunabad", often rendered as "Bournabad" or "Bournabat" in Western sources, although explanations as to how that name was composed vary. A number of sources seek the explanation in the Persian and Ottoman Turkish term birun, which means "outer, exterior", abad being a suffix common to a number of cities across the Islamic world and which forms a place name when attached to the name of a person or to a proper name, such as Haydarabad or Islamabad. Although befitting a settlement slightly outside a greater metropolitan zone, that the name "Birunabad" is based on an adjective in Bornova's case, makes an association with an earlier Byzantine name more likely. In fact, under the Byzantine and Nicean Empires the region was called "Prinobaris" and was notable for being a source of considerable revenues for the Haghia Sophia from its attached properties here, and was for this reason alternatively known as "Hagiosophitike chora". As such, Birunabad, Bournabat and now Bornova could be converted forms of this name.
The recent discovery, within the boundaries of Bornova district, of Yeilova Hyk, on which the fieldwork continues, seems to indicate that Bornova's alluvial plain, fed by several small streams, was the site of the very first settlement by the Neolithic-Calcolithic inhabitants of the region across present-day zmir's metropolitan area.
The municipality of Bornova was established in 1881 and the town became a district center in 1957. The incumbent mayor of zmir Greater Metropolitan Municipality, Aziz Kocaolu, was the mayor of Bornova before taking over his present office for the city as a whole.
The urban area is divided into 36 officially constituted and delimited neighborhoods. Several unofficial denominations for neighborhoods are also in common use across zmir and beyond to describe localities often with determined centers but vague boundaries, such as Altnda.
Twelve small villages, mostly located in the forested uplands around Mount Yamanlar and with a cumulative population of 6,354 -as against the district total of 464,694-, depend Bornova prefecture. According to the estimates made by the Izmir Chamber of Commerce, commuters and other people visiting Bornova on a daily basis could account for an additional 300,000 to be cumulated with the district population.
With a total bed capacity of only 400 across the district, most of which is accounted by the suburb's single large hotel, the accommodation facilities are rather limited inside Bornova, and the hotels in zmir's center is generally preferred for a night's stay.
Despite that, visitors on a leisure tour are a common sight in Bornova's streets due to the town's historical center having been much in favor in the 19th century among zmir's European and Levantine residents who left very visible architectural traces, in the form especially of the Levantine mansions of zmir.
Indeed, Bornova used to be a summer residence for many foreign consuls and wealthy businessmen fleeing the stagnantly hot weather in central zmir to seek the cooler breeze of the slopes of Mount Yamanlar, the departure point of Bornova in its beginnings. This move by diplomats and the rich was at the very origin of the town's growth in the beginning of the 19th century, until which time Bornova used to be a small forestry village, recorded in Ottoman times principally in connection with the task of guarding the mountain passes leading to zmir which was assigned to its inhabitants in exchange of certain tax reliefs. Moves to Bornova during summer for a month or two had entered among the habits of zmir's European/Levantine inhabitants since the preceding century, but while their rich increasingly opted to live here on a permanent basis, the city's Europeans/Levantines with more modest social conditions seem to have ceased to come to Bornova, even for the summer, by the 1820s. The mansions and residences built in the 19th century, most of which reached our day, restored and in public or private use, are usually still named after the prestigious names of the former owners, such as Whittall, Maltass, Paterson, Giraud, Edwards, Belhomme, Pandespanian. There is a small Catholic Church named the "Church of Santa Maria" in the main square of Bornova and an Anglican chapel and Bornova Anglican Cemetery nearby, both dating from the 19th century, landmarks of Bornova's cosmopolitan past. Despite the obvious luxurious style of the residences they built, these new inhabitants did not always have lives in all comfort. The soar observed in the course of the 19th century in a particular form of brigandage, sometimes interpreted as a form of social resistance and usually associated with efe tradition and with the coastal strait along the Aegean Sea as well as its valleys reaching inland, often had Bornova as its frontier land. A number of notorious cases of kidnapping involving brigands and the owners of these residences and high demands of ransom occurred on a frequent basis for almost a hundred years.
Bornova also made sports history in Turkey when the first football match ever held in the Ottoman Empire was played in Bornova in 1890 between British sailors on shore leave against young men of zmir. Turkey's first athletic contest was also held in Bornova in 1895.