California Etymology

California Etymology

Etymology is defined as the study of the history of words. It also includes their sources of origin, their formation and any changes made to them over a period of time.

When one speaks of the etymology of California, these points should be kept in mind:

  • The origin of the word ‘California’ is uncertain. Some people like to believe that the word has Spanish, Latin, South Asian and Aboriginal American origins but none of the sources are confirmed.
  • The etymology for California presently refers to three North American entities, the state of California, Baja California in Mexico and Baja California Sur. These places are collectively known as Las Californias.
  • California as a term is regarded as the fifth oldest surviving name of a place in the US and was initially used to refer to what is now known as the southern tip of Baja California and was called so by Diego de Becerra who led a Spanish expedition for Hernan Cortes.
  • Some people also suggest that the word California may be used to denote a place which is ‘hot as an oven’. This is because, in the Catalan language, ‘Cal’ denotes hot and ‘forn’ denotes an oven.
  • In the United States of America, the name California originally referred to the present-day state of California as well as Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming as well as Baja California.
  • The etymology of California is also believed to have some roots in a fictional paradise that was created by romantic writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and inhabited by Black Amazons and ruled by Queen Califia. This paradise was assumed to be located in a remote region and filled with strange beasts. The sources of inspiration for the writer using ‘California’ in his texts are uncertain.
  • ‘Californio’ is another word that is probably derived from the word ‘California’ and is used to segregate a Californian national of Latin American descent from the rest of the population.
The element Californium, discovered in 1950, is said to have been derived and taken the name of its place of discovery – The University of California.


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