How California Got Its Name

The names of some states have pretty obvious origins: Virginia (known of course for its 100% population of virgins), Washington (OCD levels of personal hygene), Maryland (half your stuff disappears upon crossing the border), etc. California, though, doesn’t really have any obvious source unless you count the fact that it houses the pornography captial of the world, but “Californication” didn’t hit the airwaves until much later.

When the question of “What should we name this state?” came up, I can only image a group of severely drunken state-namers sitting around a table brainstorming when the phone rang and one of them slurred the word in an attempt to tell one of the others that their friend Cal was on the phone for them.

Here is a sculpture that accurately represents the route taken to build that joke:

Most state names are derived from a Native American word or as an homage to English royalty. California, however, got its name from an early 16th-century Spanish romance novel by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo called Las Sergas de Esplandián in which California is described as an island east of the Asian mainland ruled by Queen Calafia and populated only by beautiful Amazonian women wielding gold weapons. The weapons were made exclusively of gold because that was the only metal available on the island. Before the Spanish started exploring the Pacific coast the name California was already on the maps, and when they came across the Baja Peninsula, they mistook it for an island, and the name stuck.

California full of beautiful women and gold? It seems that de Montalvo saw things pretty clearly from way back in the 1500’s. Scouring his other works for winning lottery numbers may be worth the effort.

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