How Did California Get Its Name?
California was named by the Spanish following its discovery by Hernan Cortes, but there are two possible origins for its name. One theory says that the name comes from a few descriptive words in Catalan, and the other says that they came from the name of the mythical land of Queen Califa.
When Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, he was told a legend about Matinino Island, where a band of women lived almost entirely without men. In 1524, Cortes also sent along word that he had heard of an island of all women that was defended by high cliffs and filled with gold and pearls. Many maps of the time show California as an island, but Mercator’s map corrected this.
The word “California” was used in a romantic book by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, in which he describes an island of peace and plenty, calling it “California.”
The name may also be less mythical and more descriptive in nature. It is possible that the name came from the Catalan words “calor,” which means “hot,” and “forn,” which means “oven,” in reference to the climate of the area. In addition, there is also a Native American phrase “kali forno,” which means”high hill,” that may also have inspired the name.