It’s a big state. I was thinking I’d have enough material for two posts for sure.
I’m afraid, though, that the Golden State came up a little short. Seems the Land of Fruits and Nuts has fewer crazily named towns than such much smaller (and more prosaic) states as Alabama, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
Looks like California’s got some great themes, though (as well as lots of great little places that didn't make it onto the map). Check below to see what I mean.
“Where ya from?” “Earp.” “Excuse me?” “Earp.” “Well, I never …” “Earp.” “You should be ashamed of yourself!” “Earp.”
Yup, Earp’s named after Wyatt, who lived in the area for a few years. Earp’s main claim to fame is having a post office further away from the county seat (San Bernadino) than any other town in the U.S.
Yes, Tarzana was named after Tarzan. No, it wasn’t given that name just because some early settler loved to read books about feral children in Africa. Tarzana was actually the site of Tarzana Ranch, owned and named by the Tarzan author himself, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Today, Tarzana is basically just a swanky suburb of LA. Famous inhabitants, present and past, include actress Lisa Kudrow, singer Selena Gomez, actress Blake Lively, and singer/actor Kevin Federline. A veritable cultural mecca, in other words.
The first return on Google Images for “tarzana”
Probably not what we were looking for
Probably not what we were looking for
According to legend, local residents debated long into the night on a name for their new town. One of them pointed out that they would likely never agree upon a name. Some wag thereupon nominated the name "Likely," and the rest is history.
Not too bloody well likely, if you ask me. Let’s leave this one as TBD. "Likely" is also a Scottish surname, BTW.
Wikipedia lists Betty Reid as a famous native daughter and points out that Betty was “known for having the most complete autobiographical sheep herding stories.” Come again?
Please don’t pronounce this like the city in France. Even though that’s what it was named after. Google Maps shows me there is a Nice Frostie and a Nice Grocery.
Nice people know how to party
(Halloween Party, Robinson Rancheria, Nice, CA)
6. French Camp, Chinese Camp, Angels Camp, Happy Camp
I guess Californians are really into the outdoors.
You may have already guessed that each of these towns were in mining regions. And for the first two, you can probably guess who was hanging out at that particular locale.
I guess you could use a similar argument for Angels Camp, but I doubt it. Turns out it was named after an early shopkeeper, Henry Angel. Boring. It is, however, the location of Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calevaras County,” as well as the present-day Jumping Frog Jubilee.
Happy Camp? Seems that the settlers, "At a time of celebrating their survival of the hardships of the trip up the treacherous Klamath and of having found a spot where 'the pickings' seemed so promising, they named it 'Happy Camp'" (some obscure local history I fond on the Internet).
Probably not the French Camp we were looking for
5. Lots and Lots of Various Cities
Wow, ten cities with the word “city” in their names. Now, that’s imaginative. Here’s what I could find out about each one:
- California City – created in 1958 with the aim of becoming California’s “next great city” (it didn’t)
- National City – from Royal Ranch (El Rancho del Rey), which was changed to National Ranch (El Rancho de la Nacion), which somehow became National City (and not ranch)
- Studio City – from a studio that Mack Sennett built on ground that the developer donated
- Cathedral City – at the mouth of Cathedral Canyon, so named for a peak in said canyon that looks like … you guessed it … a cathedral. Sonny Bono is buried here.
- Temple City – after Walter P. Temple, first settler. Officially, the City of Temple City.
- Holy City – built by cult-leader William E. Riker, who advocated celibacy, temperance, communal living, and white supremacy (more here)
- King City * – named after founder Charles King; formerly Hog Town and City of King
- Highway City – named by the incredibly imaginative fig grower J. C. Forkner, of Golden State Highway Fig Gardens fame
- Plaster City – well, it is owned by the United States Gypsum Corporation
- Project City – named after the Shasta Dam construction project
- City of Industry – created in 1957 for the sole purpose of industrial development. Site of the mall parking lot from Back to the Future.
- Yuba City – possibly from uva, the Spanish word for "grape"
And here's a shout-out to Summit City, Sierra City, Silver City, Sun City, Sand City, College City, Junction City, Midway City, Big Bear City, and Butte City. Also be sure to see all the villes and towns below, under "Honorable Mention."
Ask for Francis I
4. Rough and Ready
Contrary to popular legend, this town was not named after the local leather bar. Instead, its namesake was the Rough and Ready Mining Company, which was in turn named after Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States, Mexican-American War hero, and holder of the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”
Rough and Ready is most famous for seceding from the Union. (The main issue was taxes.) The townsfolk came to their senses and rejoined the Union three months later, right in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. Nowadays, they celebrate an annual Secession Days festival.
Some funny links off of a Google search include:
- Rough and Ready Hotels
- Rough and Ready Homes for Sale
- Rough and Ready Repairs
- Rough and Ready Wayside Chapel
Bret Harte wrote a short story about Rough and Ready, by the by.
Ask for Rick Perry
3. Rancho Cucamonga
“Cucamonga”’s bad enough. Put “Rancho” in front of it, though, and we’ve moved into some other dimension.
It actually comes from an Indian language and means "sandy place." “Cucamonga,” that is. “Rancho” means “ranch.”
RC is actually quite a city, coming in at about 165,000 people. It even has its own baseball team, the Class A Quakes. The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes play in the Epicenter and have a mascot named “Tremor.” Isn’t minor league baseball great?
Hit 'im in the kidney, Tremor!
2. Forks of Salmon
I have a hard time even visualizing this. It sounds like the title of a painting by Salvador Dali. Or maybe the name of some obscure punk rock band from Iceland.
Needless to say, the actual explanation is very, very boring. Basically, the town was founded at the confluence of the north and south forks of the Salmon River. Sigh.
Once again, Google did not let me down, though, returning the incredible poetic and evocative “forks of salmon weather.” Good name for a band, by the way.
Almost forgot … There’s a Hayfork, CA as well.
1. Weed, Weedpatch, Skyhigh
I detect another theme here. Get ready to be disappointed though.
Weed was named after Abner Weed, the founder of the local lumber mill. The surname itself comes from Old English and basically means an “irascible person” (www.ancestry.com). Mt. Shasta is nearby, so the area gets a lot of tourists.
Weedpatch was simply a low-lying, swampy area overrun with weeds and not fit for farming. It was originally known as Alexander’s Corner which, though not all that exciting, sure beats Weedpatch. It’s the site of the Arvin Federal Government Camp, a camp for Okies in the ‘30s. The camp was featured in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, where it’s called “Weedpatch Camp.”
Skyhigh is a mystery. It is, however, at over 7000 ft in elevation.
Probably not the Skyhigh we were looking for
- B-o-r-i-n-g – Vista, Upland, Pond, Canyon, Forest, Home Gardens, Homeland, Centerville, Standard, Road Ends
- Short & sweet – Elk, Day, Igo, Ono, Ojai, Noyo, Nord, Ione, Goffs
- Orthographically challenged – Consumne, Terminous, Yreka
- Numerically oriented – Twin Bridges, Three Rivers, Three Rocks, Four Corners, Five Points, Eight Mile House, Twenty-Nine Palms, Thousand Palms
- A regular United Nations – Spanish Ranch, French Corral, French Gulch, Dutch Flat, China Camp
- Just slightly off-color – Hooker, Ft. Dick, Shafter, Woody
- Aytpical adjectives – Sage, Orange, Blythe, Blunt, Thermal, Cool
- Uncoventional verbs – Challenge, Rescue, Bend, Bray
- Abnormal nouns – Boron, Mineral, Empire, Incline, Lookout, Arcade, Felicity (official center of the world), Tranquility, Rainbow, Rodeo, Trimmer, Knob, Needles, Hayfork, Viola, Volcano, Lotus, Shrub, Walnut, Peanut, Raisin, Strawberry, Honeydew, Aromas, Bivalve, Wimp
- Fun to say – Fruto, Sloat, Solvang, Arbuckle, Glamis, Bodfish, Lompoc *, Sisquoc, Yolo, Yermo, Yorba Linda, Topanga, Pomona, Pismo Beach (giant clam statues), Petrolia, Betteravia (from the French for “sugar beet”), Calipatria (formerly Date City), Copperopolis, Thermalito, Sausalito, Sepulveda, Petaluma, Temecula, Coachella, Chowchilla, Biola (after the Bible Institute of Los Angeles – I kid you not), San Luis Obispo, San Juan Capistrano
- Just plain weird – Emigrant Gap, Short Acres, Mineral King, Mormon Bar, Mad River (formerly Kuntz), Gas Point, Gasoline Alley, Fallen Leaf, Fig Garden, Pumpkin Center, Prunedale *, Avocado Heights, Cambrian Park, Burnt Ranch, Blue Canon, Bitterwater, Badwater, Buttonwillow, Coarsegold, Earlimart, Libfarm, Dunmovin, Fawnskin, False Klamath, Sucker Flat, Hellhole Palms, Hallelujah Junction, Doghouse Junction, Deadman Crossing, Death Valley, Devils Den, Scarface, No Mirage, You Bet, and – of course – Zzyzx
- Too many villes – Susanville, Dairyvlle, Farmersville, Vacaville, Smartville, Volcanoville, Bummerville
- Too many towns – Shingletown, Fiddletown (world's largest fiddle), Drytown, Whiskeytown, Tuttletown, Squabbletown, Secret Town
- I’d like you to meet – Buck Meadows, Beverly Hills, Kit Carson, Jenny Lind, Lee Vining (upside down house), Hercules
Special Note: Ghost Towns!Like any good Western state, California's got its share of ghost towns:
- Numerically oriented – Second Garrotte
- Just a little out of place – Michigan Bluff, New Chicago
- Native American mouthfuls – Mokelumne City
- Atypical adjectives – Masonic
- Abnormal nouns – Cement
- Just plain weird – Deadwood, Last Chance, Chloride City, Mullet Island, French Flat, Port Wine, Poker Flat, Crackerjack, Dogtown, Ragtown, Noonday City, Skidoo, Grub Gulch, Potholes, You Bet
* - author has visited