California - Etymology

Etymology

The word California originally referred to the entire region composed of the Baja California peninsula of Mexico, the current U.S. states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

The name California is most commonly believed to have derived from a fictional paradise peopled by Black Amazons and ruled by Queen Calafia. The story of Calafia is recorded in a 1510 work The Adventures of Esplandián, written as a sequel to Amadis de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Calafia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts, and rich in gold.

Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.

Chapter CLVII of The Adventures of Esplandián

The name California is the fifth oldest surviving European place-name in the US and was applied to what is now the southern tip of Baja California peninsula as the Island of California by a Spanish expedition led by Diego de Becerra and Fortún Ximénez, who landed there in 1533 at the behest of Hernán Cortés.

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