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1500 California Place Names
Their Origin and Meaning
By William Bright
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 1998 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
1500 California Place Names
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ABALONE (ab uh LOH nee) POINT [Humboldt Co.]. The abalone, an edible shellfish, has given its name to several places in California. The term comes from Rumsen (Costanoan), in which awlun means "red abalone."
ACALANES (ah kuh LAH neez) [Contra Costa Co.]. Refers to a Indian tribe of the Miwokan family, living south of San Pablo and Suisun Bays, whom the Spanish called Sacalanes. The term Los Sacalanes was reinterpreted as Los Acalanes in the 1830s. The tribe is now usually referred to as Saklan.
ACHUMAWI (ah choo MAH wee). An American Indian group of Shasta, Lassen, and Modoc Counties; also called the Pit River tribe. Their language is related to the neighboring Atsugewi. The alternative spelling Ahjumawi occurs in the name of Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park [Shasta Co.].
ACRODECTES (ak roh DEK teez) PEAK [Kings Canyon N.P.]. Although the word resembles an Ancient Greek name, it does not exist in the ancient language; it is a zoological name, coined from Greek akros, "peak," and dektes, "biter," to refer to Acrodectes philopagus, a rare species of cricket found only in the high Sierra.
ADELANTO (ad uh LAN toh) [San Bernardino Co.]. A name given in recent times; the Spanish word means "progress" or "advance."
ADOBE (uh DOH bee) CREEK [Mendocino Co.]. The Spanish term adobe, found in many place names, refers to a claylike soil suitable for making bricks, to such bricks themselves, or to a building constructed from adobe bricks.
AGASSIZ (AG uh see), MOUNT [Kings Canyon N.P.]. Named for Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-American scientist of the nineteenth century.
AGNEW [Santa Clara Co.]. Named for Abram Agnew and his family, who settled in the Santa Clara Valley in 1873. The name was later applied to a state mental hospital at the site.
AGOURA (uh GOO ruh) [Los Angeles Co.]. Named for Pierre Agoure, a Basque who had a ranch here in the 1890s.
AGUA (AH gwuh). From the Spanish for "water"; the word occurs in many combinations to form place names, such as Agua Caliente (kal ee EN tee) [Sonoma Co.], "hot water" (i.e., hot springs); Agua Fria (FREE uh) [Mariposa Co.], "cold water"; Agua Dulce (DOOL see) [Los Angeles Co.], "sweet water"; and Agua Hedionda (hed ee AHN duh) [San Diego Co.], "stinking water" (probably referring to sulfur springs).
AGUANGA (uh WAHNG guh) [Riverside Co.]. From a Luiseño village name, awáanga, "dog place," from awáal, "dog."
AGUEREBERRY (AG er bair ee) POINT [Death Valley N.P.]. Named, using an alternative spelling, for "French Pete" Aguerreberry, a Basque miner who worked here around 1906.
AHA KWIN (uh hah KWIN) PARK [Riverside Co.]. From Mojave 'ahá, "water," and aakwín, "to bend."
AHJUMAWI (ah joo MAH wee) LAVA SPRINGS STATE PARK [Shasta Co.]. Named for the Indian group (also spelled Achumawi), locally called the Pit River tribe, who are native to the area. Their name in their language, ajumaawi, "river people," from ajuma, "river," originally referred to the Fall River band of this tribe.
AHWAHNEE (uh WAH nee) [Yosemite N.P]. From Southern Sierra Miwok awooni, "Yosemite Valley," from awwo, "mouth."
AHWIYAH (uh WIE yuh) POINT [Yosemite N.P.]. From Southern Sierra Miwok awaaya, "lake" or "deep." Mirror Lake was earlier called Ahwiyah Lake.
ALABAMA HILLS [Inyo Co.]. The term was applied by Southern sympathizers in 1863, after the Confederate raider Alabama sank the Union warship Hatteras off the coast of Texas.
ALAMAR (al uh MAHR) CANYON [Santa Barbara Co.]. From the Spanish for "place of poplar (or cottonwood) trees," from álamo, "poplar (or cottonwood)."
ALAMBIQUE (al uhm BEEK) CREEK [San Mateo Co.]. From the Spanish for "still," a place where liquor is distilled. Moonshiners, it seems, once worked in the area.
ALAMEDA (al uh MEE duh). Spanish for "grove of poplar (or cottonwood) trees," from álamo, "poplar (or cottonwood)," or for a grove of shade trees in general. The term dates from 1794; it was applied to the city and to Alameda County in 1853.
ALAMILLA (ah luh MEE yuh) SPRING [Amador Co.]. Not from álamo. Rather, it was named by José María Amador in 1826, when he built his adobe house about a mile—a la milla, "at the mile"—west of the spring.
ALAMITOS (al uh MEE tuhs) BAY [Los Angeles Co.]. From the Spanish for "little poplars (or cottonwoods)," the diminutive of álamo.
ALAMO (AL uh moh) [Contra Costa Co.]. The town takes its name from Spanish álamo, "poplar (or cottonwood)." The Alamo River [Imperial Co.] is one of the many places in the desert regions named for the Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii), which promised water to the thirsty wanderer. Alamorio (al uh muh REE oh) [Imperial Co.] is on the Alamo River; the name is coined from álamo plus Spanish río, "river." The plural form, álamos, occurs in the name of Los Alamos [Santa Barbara Co.].
ALBANY [Alameda Co.]. Named after the New York State birthplace of Frank J. Roberts, the town's first mayor.
ALBERHILL (al ber HIL) [Riverside Co.]. Coined from the surnames of C. H. Albers and James and George Hill, owners of the land on which the town was built about 1890.
ALBION (AL bee uhn) [Mendocino Co.]. In 1579, Sir Francis Drake landed on the northern California coast and called it New Albion. This ancient name for Britain, from Latin albus, "white," originally referred to the white cliffs of Dover. The term was applied to the Mendocino location in 1844.
ALCATRAZ (AL kuh traz) [San Francisco Co.]. From the Spanish for "pelican." The island has been famous first as a federal prison, then as a site of American Indian activism, and now as a museum.
ALESSANDRO (al uh ZAN droh) [Riverside Co.]. Named in 1887 after the Indian hero in Helen Hunt Jackson's romantic novel Ramona. Jackson perhaps confused Alessandro, the Italian equivalent of Alexander, with the Spanish Alejandro.
ALGODONES (al guh DOH nuhs) [Imperial Co.]. Derived from the name of a Yuman tribe that once lived on both sides of the Colorado River; they were called halchidóom by the neighboring Mojave tribe. (The term is not from Spanish algodón, "cotton.")
ALHAMBRA (al HAM bruh) [Los Angeles Co.]. Laid out in 1874 and named for the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, made popular by Washington living's book The Alhambra. But Alhambra Valley [Contra Costa Co.] is a "prettying up" of Spanish Cañada del Hambre, "valley of hunger."
ALISAL (AL uh sal) [Monterey Co.]. From the Spanish for "alder grove," from aliso, "alder" (also sometimes applied to the sycamore). El Alisal, the Los Angeles home of the writer Charles Lummis, is now a museum.
ALISO (uh LEE soh) CREEK [Orange Co.]. From the Spanish for "alder (or sycamore)."
ALLEGHANY (AL uh gay nee) [Sierra Co.]. Named after the Alleghany Mine of the 1850s. The name goes back to the Delaware (Algonquian) name for the Allegheny River of Pennsylvania, perhaps meaning "beautiful stream."
ALMADEN (al muh DEN) [Santa Clara Co.]. The site of a cinnabar mine, from which mercury was produced; it was named in 1846 after Almadén in Spain, the world's largest such mine. California Indians used the cinnabar ore for body paint.
ALMANOR (AL muh nawr) LAKE [Plumas Co.]. Named after Alice, Martha, and Elinore, the daughters of Guy C. Earl, president of the power company that created this reservoir in 1917.
ALPINE [San Diego Co.]. The name was suggested in the 1880s by an early resident who said the district resembled her native Switzerland. Alpine County, also named for its mountainous terrain, was created in 1864 from parts of five adjacent counties; it had previously been considered part of Nevada. It now has the smallest population of any California county.
ALTA. The Spanish adjective meaning "high" or "upper" has always been a favorite in California place-naming, as in Alta California, "upper California," the term that the Spanish used in distinction to Baja California. But many names were applied in American times, such as Altaville [Calaveras Co.]; Altamont [Alameda Co.], scene of a notorious Rolling Stones concert in 1969; and Alta Loma [San Bernardino Co.], meaning "high hill." Altadena (al tuh DEE nuh) [Los Angeles Co.] was coined in 1886 from alta plus the last part of Pasadena, because of the town's situation above Pasadena.
AL TAHOE [El Dorado Co.]. From the Al Tahoe Hotel, built in 1907 by Almerin R. Sprague and named for himself—Al(merin's) Tahoe hotel.
ALTURAS (al TOOR uhs) [Modoc Co.]. Formerly called Dorrisville, the town was renamed in 1876 from the Spanish word meaning "heights," from alto, "high."
ALVARADO (al vuh RAH doh) [Alameda Co.]. Named in 1853 in honor of Juan Bautista Alvarado, governor of California from 1836 to 1842. A major street in Los Angeles also bears his name.
ALVISO (al VEE soh) [Santa Clara Co.]. Named in 1849 for Ignacio Alviso, who had come to the area from Mexico with the Anza expedition in 1776.
AMADOR (AM uh dohr) COUNTY. Named in 1854 for José María Amador, who came to California as a soldier in the Spanish garrison of San Francisco and became a big landowner. Amador City was founded in 1863 and named after the county.
AMARGOSA (am er GOH suh) RIVER [Death Valley N.P.]. From Spanish amargoso, "bitter" (an alternate form of amargo); the name was recorded by Frémont in 1844 and probably refers to alkaline water.
AMAYA (uh MAH yuh) CREEK [Santa Cruz Co.]. On land owned around 1860 by two Californio brothers, Casimero and Darío Amaya.
AMBOY [San Bernardino Co.]. Named as one of a series of railroad stations in alphabetical order: Amboy, Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Edson, Fenner, and Goffs. All these names were probably taken from locations "back east."
AMERICAN RIVER [Placer, El Dorado, Sacramento Cos.]. The name was given by Sutter in the 1840s, because a ford in the river was called El Paso de los Americanos, "the crossing of the Americans," by Spanish-speaking Indians, referring to Canadian trappers.
ANACAPA (an uh KAP uh) ISLANDS [Ventura Co.]. The term is from Chumash anyapax, "mirage, illusion," recorded in 1792 by George Vancouver as both Eneeapah and Enecapa.
ANAHEIM (AN uh hime) [Orange Co.]. Named by German settlers after the Santa Ana River plus German Heim, "home."
ANAHUAC (AH nuh wahk) SPRING [San Diego Co.]. From the Diegueño place name Iñaja, but confused with Anahuac (ah NAH wahk), a name that the Aztecs gave to their Mexican homeland.
ANGELES (AN juh luhs) NATIONAL FOREST [Los Angeles, San Bernardino Cos.]. So named in 1908, because the larger part of the forest is within Los Angeles County.
ANGEL ISLAND [San Francisco Bay]. A translation of Spanish Isla de los Ángeles, the name given in 1775.
ANGELS CAMP [Calaveras Co.]. Named during the Gold Rush for a miner named George or Henry Angel.
AÑO NUEVO (AN oh noo AY voh, AN yoh NWAY voh) POINT [San Mateo Co.]. From the Spanish for "new year," so named by Vizcaíno on January 3,1603, because it was the first promontory sighted in the new year.
ANTELOPE VALLEY [Los Angeles Co.]. Named not for a true antelope, but for the pronghorn, which was once abundant in the state.
ANTIOCH (AN tee ahk) [Contra Costa Co.]. From a city in Syria, mentioned in the Bible; the name was selected by residents at a Fourth of July picnic in 1851.
ANZA-BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK [San Diego Co.]. Formerly called Anza Desert State Park, it was named for the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, who crossed the area in 1774. It incorporates the Borrego Desert (from a Spanish word for "sheep").
APTOS (AP tohs, AHP tohs) [Santa Cruz Co.]. A Spanish rendering, dating from 1791, of a Costanoan Indian village name, aptos, of unknown meaning.
ARBUCKLE [Colusa Co.]. Named in 1875 for the rancher T. R. Arbuckle, who had settled here in 1866.
ARCADIA [Los Angeles Co.]. Named around 1888 for a district in ancient Greece that was considered an ideal of rural simplicity.
ARCATA (ahr KAY tuh) [Humboldt Co.]. The town is in the territory of the Wiyot Indians, but its name is from the language of a neighboring tribe: Yurok oket'oh, "where there is a lagoon"—referring to Humboldt Bay.
ARENA (uh REE nuh), POINT [Mendocino Co.]. From Spanish arena, "sand"; named Barro de Arena, "sand bar," by the British navigator George Vancouver in 1792.
ARGUELLO (ahr GWEL oh), POINT [Santa Barbara Co.]. Named in 1792 by George Vancouver after José Darío Argüello, then the Spanish commander at Monterey.
ARGUS RANGE [Inyo Co.]. The mining district was named for a giant in Greek mythology who had a hundred eyes.
AROMAS (uh ROH muhs) [Monterey Co.]. Spanish for "odors, aromas," probably referring to hot sulfur springs.
ARRASTRE (uh RAS truh) CREEK [San Bernardino Co.]. In Mexican Spanish, the term refers to an apparatus used for crushing ore in gold-mining days. It occurs as a place name in several areas, sometimes spelled Arrastra or Arastra.
ARROWHEAD SPRINGS and LAKE [San Bernardino Co.]. Named in 1860 because of an arrowhead-shaped configuration in the earth near the springs.
ARROYO (uh ROY oh). The Spanish word for "creek, watercourse" forms part of many place names. Familiar combinations include Arroyo Seco (SAY koh) [Los Angeles Co.], "dry creek"; and Arroyo Grande (GRAN dee) [San Luis Obispo Co.], "big creek."
ARROZ (uh ROHZ) [Yolo Co.]. Spanish for "rice," a major crop of the area. A town in Glenn County is called Riz, the French equivalent.
ARTESIA (ahr TEE zhuh) [Los Angeles Co.]. Named for artesian wells dug here in the 1870s. Artesia is the Latin name for the town of Artois in France, where artesian wells occur.
ARTOIS (AHR toys) [Glenn Co.]. Previously called Germantown, it was renamed Artois during World War I, after the French city, which was the scene of fighting.
ASILOMAR (uh SIL oh mahr, uh SEE loh mahr) [Monterey Co.]. The artificial name, coined from Spanish asilo, "asylum, refuge," plus mar "sea," was given by the YWCA to the site in 1913.
ASTI (AS tee) [Sonoma Co.], Named in 1881 after the city in Italy, a wine-producing center.
ASUNCION (uh SUHN see uhn) [San Luis Obispo Co.]. The Spanish word Asunción refers to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary—her bodily transportation to heaven. The name was given in 1776. It has sometimes been confused with the Ascension (Ascensión in Spanish), which refers not to Mary but to Christ.
ATASCADERO (uh tas kuh DAIR oh) [San Luis Obispo Co.]. Spanish for "a place where one gets stuck in the mud," from atascar, "to mire down"; the name has been used since the 1870s.
ATHERTON [San Mateo Co.]. Named in the 1860s for Faxon D. Atherton, on whose land the town was built. He was the father-in-law of the California novelist Gertrude Atherton.
ATSUGEWI (aht soo GAY wee). The name of an Indian group, also called the Hat Creek tribe, in Shasta and Lassen Counties; their language is related to Achumawi.
AUBURN [Placer Co.]. Named in 1849 by miners from Auburn, New York—which in turn was named for Auburn in England, the "loveliest village of the plain," made famous by Oliver Goldsmith's poem "The Deserted Village."
Excerpted from 1500 California Place Names by William Bright. Copyright © 1998 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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