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Here's The Story of How California Got Its Name

Here's The Story of How California Got Its Name

California got its name from an unlikely source that is remarkably fitting for the beautiful state it is. Team


1 min read

October 26, 2023

The name California, with its mellifluous charm, evokes images of palm trees, golden beaches, and the glinting Pacific. However, the origins of the state’s name are rooted not in historical fact but rather in a work of fiction, a testament to the power of literature and imagination.

The story starts in the early 16th century with a Spanish romantic adventure novel titled "Las Sergas de Esplandián" written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. Published around 1510, this novel was a sequel to Montalvo's more popular work, "Amadís de Gaula", a tale of knights, damsels, and mythical creatures that was the 'Harry Potter' of its day in the Spanish-speaking world.

In "Las Sergas de Esplandián", Montalvo describes an island paradise to the west of the Indies, saying: “On the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise.” This mythical island was ruled by Queen Calafia, a formidable warrior who ruled over a tribe of women and had gold in abundance.

So, how did a Spanish work of fiction from the early 1500s influence the naming of the modern American state?

Fast forward to the 1530s. Spanish colonizers, under the leadership of Hernán Cortés, were looking to expand their territories in the New World. With tales of vast riches in the unknown lands, they sailed north from their bases in Mexico, seeking these treasures. The Spaniards, familiar with Montalvo's tale, believed they had discovered the island of California when they came upon the Baja California Peninsula. Despite realizing later that this 'island' was actually a peninsula, the name stuck.

As colonizers continued to settle the western coasts of the Americas, the name California was extended to include the entire region, encompassing what is now the state of California in the USA.

The transformation of California from a fictional island of Amazons to one of the most prosperous states in the United States is a whimsical twist of history. In essence, California owes its name to the power of storytelling. Today, as the Golden State remains a hub of entertainment, innovation, and dreams, it seems only fitting that its origins are anchored in a tale of wonder and imagination.

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