WOTD: California

I very rarely choose a proper noun as a featured word, but this article over on Dictionary.com about the origins of the state name California really caught my eye. California is a Spanish word so I probably assumed the state was named after some Spanish missionary. However, the story behind the California name is actually quite fascinating.

Apparently, when the Spanish began exploring the Pacific Coast they mistakenly thought California was an island. In fact, some of the earliest maps of this region depict California as separated from the mainland. “This is considered one of the greatest, albeit short-lived, cartographic errors.”

Not only that, they decided name the newly-discovered “island” after the mythical island of California from the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián, “The Adventures of Esplandián,” written by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

In the book, the mythical California is ruled by Queen Califa and populated only with female warriors who brandish gold weapons. They even harness their animals in gold because it is the only mineral on the island.

The legend of Califa and her island was well known among New World explorers. In 1536 when Hernán Cortéz arrived in Baja California, he believed he had landed on the legendary island.

Labeling it “California” on the charts led to future explorers thinking this was the actual island from the story, inhabited with Amazon-like women almost drowning in gold. Of course 300 years later gold was discovered in California which led to the Gold Rush, statehood, and the state’s nickname, “The Golden State.”

The State of California's bizarre flag.

Until next time…