Origin of the name California

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It is widely accepted that the origin of the name California is Garci Rodriguez's chivalric romance, "Sergas de Esplandian" a story about an island called California and its inhabitants the Calafias, black amazons that lived with no men and made their weapons with gold because there was no other metal on the island. But it is not known for sure how and when the name was related to the peninsula.

Sergas de Esplandian

Sergas de Esplandian


First Accounts on the use of California Name
In the years that came after Hernan Cortez foundation of Santa Cruz the name California was used referring to the area or a part of it several times:

Francisco Preciado, chronicler of the fourth expedition to the peninsula funded by Hernan Cortes, used the name California in his account of the voyage but it is clear he referred to a specific place rather than the whole area.

The expedition was led by Francisco de Ulloa. With three ships, he explored the Gulf of California which was named Mar Bermeja or Crimson Sea, after the waters reddish color.

On September, 28, 1539 Ulloa reached the mouth of the Colorado River mistakenly naming it San Andres Cove. Later the fleet sailed to the west coast of the peninsula where Cedros Island was discovered.

Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who wrote an eyewitness chronicle of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, labels the land discovered by Cortez Santa Cruz, describing California as a bay.

Fernando de Alarcon, who led the maritime branch of an expedition sent by the viceroy Mendoza in 1540, in search for the "Seven Cities of Gold" at the Cibola region, referred to the inhospitable lands of the peninsula as California.

It is believed Alarcon used the name as a mockery to humiliate Cortes for his failure to establish a colony in Santa Cruz and because of the lack of gold in the area. This could have been the first time someone mentioned, in an official document the newly discovered territories by the name of California.

The Spanish cosmographer and cartographer Diego Gutierrez published a remarkable map in 1562, in which appeared for the first time, the toponym California.

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Diego Gutierrez map

The toponym California can be seen at right surrounded by a red oval.



The Two Californias
The area named California spanned from Cabo San Lucas to Cabo Mendocino. The Peninsula area was known as Old California while the northern part was called New California; the capital of the territory was Loreto. In 1804 the area was officially separated in the Alta (upper) California and Baja (lower) California and each of the Californias had a governor.

After the Mexican-American War at the end of the 1840's the Alta California was lost by the Mexicans and became the US State of California while the southern part remained Mexican and kept the name Baja California Peninsula which eventually was divided in two states, Baja California and Baja California Sur.

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Diego Gutierrez map

The Old and New Californias can be seen in this 1825 map of "The United States of Mexico"




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