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March 31, 2018

The Naming of California - fact or fiction

The doc says 4 more weeks of RICE treatment for my meniscus tear. So this week a bit of history … how did California get it’s name?

I’d bet everybody who reads my blog has been to California, but I’d be surprised if any know (or even think about) where the name California came from.  On early maps the boundaries of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific were not explored and California was shown as an island.


Maybe Christopher Columbus had it right in the journal of his first voyage “a place of women without men”. 

And history seems to follow Christopher Columbus, California was named after Queen Califia, a Black Amazon warrior Queen that Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, wrote about in his 1500, Las sergas de Esplandián.  The book was part of a popular series of Spanish romance stories.  Where the novel described an island, very close to the Garden of Eden, full of gold, which was ruled by strong and beautiful black women. The name of this magical island of Queen Califia was California.  Personally I consider it the lure of this earthly paradise, that it was named for a romanticized paradise.

No matter, in 1533 Diego de Becerra applied the name California to the region:
“Know that, on the right hand of the Indies, very near to the Terrestrial Paradise, there is an island called California, which was peopled with black women, without any men among them. because they were accustomed to live after the fashion of Amazons . . . In this island called California are many Griffins, on account of the great savageness of the country and the immense quantity of the wild game there . . .  .” gotta love those ‘California Girls’!

and the name has stuck, making California one of the 5 oldest European names in the Western Hemisphere.  Where it remains today as the name of the US state of California, the two Mexican states of Baja California Norte and Sur of Baja California Peninsula and the Gulf of California.

La Jolla artist Niki de Saint Phalle has her sculptures displayed along the Prado in Balboa Park,  along the water font in San Diego, on the UCSD campus and her whimsical colorful works at Queen Califia’s Magical Circle Garden, which is open every Tuesday and Thursday 9-Noon and on the second Saturday of each month in Kit Carson Park Escondido.

Located at the 17th hole of the disc golf course is a sign providing directions up a short path to the entrance.

The only entrance into the garden is past 2 of 8 snakes that define the Magical Circle.  The snakes are covered in ceramic, various stones and petrified wood

Once past the snakes continue into the garden via a maze made of black and white ceramic tile pieces inlaid with mirrors.  The center piece of the garden is Queen Califia standing atop her 5-legged eagle throne.

Underneath the eagle is a temple sanctuary with golden fountain egg in the center

The 8 totems that surround Queen Califia portray images of the creatures and crests that have played important roles in the history of California.

The debate continued if California was an island or peninsula for more than 2 centuries.  The dispute was finally settled when the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza traveled between Sonora and Borrego Springs, then on to the west coast of California between 1774–1776.  Establishing once and for all that California was part of the mainland.

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