How Did Our 58 Counties Get Their Names?
Created 1853. The word Alameda is derived from alamo the Spanish name for cottonwood or poplar tree, and means a “grove of poplar trees.” The name was applied both to the southern portion of the county (La Alameda) and to the stream running through it (Rio de la Alameda) as early as 1795.
Created 1864. It derived its name from the English word alpine meaning “of, pertaining to, or connected with, the Alps.” Lying as it does on the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountains, its geographical position makes it particularly an alpine county, and hence its name.
Created 1854. The county is named for Jose Maria Amador, soldier, rancher and miner, who was born in San Francisco in 1794, the son of Sergeant Pedro Amador, a Spanish soldier who settled in California in 1771. In 1848, Jose Maria Amador, with several Native Americans, established a successful gold mining camp near the present town of Amador. In Spanish, the word amador means “lover of inanimate objects.”
Created 1850. Its name is derived from the Marysville or Sutter Buttes, which lay within the boundaries when it was created. The word butte is derived from the Teutonic word meaning “a blunt extension or elevation.” In the French language, it signifies “a small hill or mound of earth detached from any mountain range.”
Created 1850. The meaning of the word calaveras is “skulls.” This county takes its name from the Calaveras River, which was reportedly so designated by an early explorer when he found, on the banks of the stream, many skulls of Native Americans who had either died of famine or had been killed in tribal conflicts over hunting and fishing grounds.
Created 1850. Named after two Mexican land grants; Coluses (1844) and Colus (1845). The name of the county in the original state legislative act was spelled Colusi, and often in newspapers was spelled Coluse. The word is derived from the name of an Native American tribe living on the west side of the Sacramento River.
Created 1850. The name signifies “opposite coast,” because of its situation opposite San Francisco, in an easterly direction, on San Francisco Bay. In 1853, Alameda County was formed from territory originally included in this county.
Created 1857, from territory formerly included in Klamath County. The name of this county signifies “the north,” and the county derived its name from its geographical position in the extreme northwest corner of the state.
Created February 1850. El Dorado — the far-famed fabulous region of genial clime and never-fading verdure, where gold and precious stones are as common as rocks and pebbles, where wines gently flow from fountains. The name, meaning “the gilded one” in Spanish, appears at the beginning of the 16th century as that of a mythical Native American chief who was said to have been covered with gold dust during the performance of religious rites. When the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall at Coloma in January 1848 became known to the world, California, and particularly that section where gold was discovered, was called “El Dorado.” From this fact the county received its name.
Created April 1856. Named after Fresno Creek. Fresno in Spanish signifies “ash tree” and it was because of the abundance of mountain ash or ash trees in the county that it received its name.
Created 1891. The county was created out of the northern portion of Colusa County and was named for Dr. Hugh J. Glenn, who was the largest wheat farmer in the state during his lifetime and a man of great prominence in political and commercial life in California.
Created 1853. The county derived its name from Humboldt Bay, which was entered by a sea otter party in 1806, but was not rediscovered until 1849. In 1850, Douglas Ottinger and Hans Buhne entered the bay, naming it Humboldt in honor of the great naturalist and world explorer, Baron Alexander von Humboldt.
Created 1907. It derived its name from the Imperial Valley and is the “youngest” of California’s counties. The valley was named for the Imperial Land Company, a subsidiary of the California Development Company, which at the turn of the century had reclaimed the southern portion of the Colorado desert for agriculture.
Created 1866. This county derived its name from the Native American name for the mountains in its area. The meaning of the word inyo is “dwelling place of the great spirit.”
Created 1866. The county derived its name from the Kern River, which was named for Edward Kern, topographer of General John C. Fremont’s 1845 expedition.
Created 1893. The county was created out of a part of Tulare County; some 100 square miles of territory from Fresno County was added in 1908. It derived its name from the Kings River which, according to Padre Munoz’ diary of the Moraga Expedition of 1806, was discovered in 1805 by an exploring expedition and named Rio de los Santos Reyes (River of the Holy Kings).
Created 1861, from territory formerly included in Napa County. This county derived its name because of the many charming lakes in the area, most prominently Clear Lake.
Created 1864. The county’s name was derived from Mount Lassen, which was named for Peter Lassen, one of General Fremont’s guides and a famous trapper, frontiersman and Native American fighter. He was killed by the Paiutes at the base of the mountain in 1859.
Created 1850. The words los angeles literally mean “the angels” and are a contraction of the original name Pueblo del Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (the Town of the River of Our Lady, Queen of the Angeles). In 1781, Governor Felipe de Neve issued orders for the establishment of the pueblo on El Rio Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. The pueblo in time became known as the Ciudad de Los Angeles (City of the Angels), and it is from this contraction that the present name is derived.
Created 1893, from a portion of Fresno County lying north of the San Joaquin River. Madera in Spanish signified “timber.” The county derived its name from the town of Madera, named when the California Lumber Company built a flume to carry lumber to the railroad there in 1876.
Created 1850. The origin of its name is not clear. One story says that the county was named for Chief Marin, of the Licatiut tribe of Native Americans who inhabited that section and waged fierce battle against the early Spanish military explorers. The other version is that the bay between San Pedro and San Quentin points was named Bahia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario la Marinera by Ayala in 1775, and it is quite possible that Marin is simply an abbreviation of this name.
Created February 1850. The county took its name from Mariposa Creek. The area was so named by Spanish explorers in 1807 when they discovered great clusters of butterflies (“mariposas” in Spanish) in the foothills of the Sierras. Some say these butterflies were really butterfly lilies.
Created 1850. The county derived its name from Cape Mendocino, which was probably named in honor of either Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, 1535-1542 (who sent the Juan Cabrillo Expedition to this coast in 1542), or Lorenzo Suarez de Mendoza, Viceroy from 1580 to 1583. Mendocino is an adjective form of the family name of Mendoza.
Created 1855, from a part of Mariposa County. The county derived its name from the Merced River of El Rio de Nuestra Senora de la Merced (River of Our Lady of Mercy); named in 1806 by an expedition, headed by Gabriel Moraga, which came upon it at the end of a hot dusty ride.
Created 1874, from an eastern section of Siskiyou county. It derived its name from a fierce Native American tribe that lived at the Pit River headwaters. One historian suggests that the word modoc means “the head of the river.” Another states that the word is derived from the Klamath word moatakni meaning “southerners,” i.e., the people living south of the Klamath tribe.
Created 1861. The county is named after Mono Lake, which, in 1852, was named for a Native American tribe that inhabited the Sierra Nevada from north of Mono Lake to Owens Lake. The tribe’s western neighbors, the Yokuts, called them monachie, meaning “fly people,” because the pupae of a fly was their chief food staple and trading article.
Created 1850. It derived its name from the Bay of Monterey. The word itself is composed of the Spanish words monte and rey, and literally means “king of the mountain.” The bay was named by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602, in honor of the Conde de Monterey, the Viceroy of New Spain.
Created 1850. Named after Napa Valley. The word napa is of Native American derivation and has been variously translated as “grizzly bear,” “house,” “motherland” or “fish.” Of the many explanations of the names’s origin, the most plausible seems to be that it is derived from the Patwin word napo meaning house.
Created 1851. Named after the mining town of Nevada City, a name derived from the term “Sierra Nevada.” The word nevada in Spanish means “snowy” or “snowcovered.”
Created 1889. This county was given the name of Orange to sound like a semi-tropical paradise in order to encourage immigration.
Created 1851. Placer is probably a contraction of the words plaza de oro (the place of gold) and in Spanish means “a place near a river where gold is found.” The county derived its name from the numerous places where the method of extracting gold from the earth, called placer mining, was practiced.
Created 1854. The Spanish originally called one of the tributaries of the Sacramento River El Rio de las Plumas or the “River of Feathers.” In creating this county, the state Legislature gave it the name Plumas because all of the numerous branches of the Feather River have their origins in its mountains.
Created 1893. This county was created from portions of San Diego and San Bernardino counties and derived its name from the City of Riverside, christened when the upper canal of the Santa Ana River reached it in 1871.
Created 1850. The county was named by Captain Moraga after the Sacramento River. The word Sacramento signifies “Sacrament” or “Lord’s Supper.”
Created 1874. Named after San Benito Valley. In his expedition in 1772, Crespi named a small river in honor of San Benidicto (Saint Benedict), the patron saint of the married, and it is from the contraction of this name that the county took its name.
Created 1853. Saint Bernard is the patron saint of mountain passes. The name Bernardino means “bold as a bear.” The Spanish gave the name San Bernardino to the snowcapped peak in southern California, in honor of the saint; from him the county derived its name.
Created 1850. Named after San Diego Bay, which had been rechristened by Vizcaino in 1602, in honor of the Franciscan, San Diego de Alcala de Henares, whose name was borne by his flagship.
Created 1850. The sixth mission in California was established here by Padre Junipero Serra on October 9, 1776, and was named Mission San Francisco de Asis a la Laguna de los Dolores (Saint Francis of Assisi at the Lagoon of Sorrows). The mission is now known as “Mission Dolores.”
Created 1850. The county takes its name from the San Joaquin River. In the early 1800s Lieutenant Moraga, commanding an expedition in the lower great Central Valley of California, gave the name of San Joaquin (meaning Saint Joachim) to a rivulet that springs from the Sierra Nevada mountains and empties into Buena Vista Lake.
*SAN LUIS OBISPO
Created 1850. In 1772, the Mission San Luis Obispo was established here by Padre Junipero Serra and named for Saint Luis, the Bishop of Toulouse. The county’s name comes from the mission.
Created 1856. The county bears the Spanish name for Saint Matthew. As a place name, St. Matthew appears as early as 1776, and the arroyo, the point and the settlement at the unofficial San Mateo Mission are all so designated on the early maps. Until about 1850, the name appeared as San Matheo.
Created 1850. The Santa Barbara Channel received its name from Sebastian Vizcaino when he sailed over the channel waters in 1602. In 1782, Padre Junipero Serra dedicated a site near the channel for a presidio and on Dec. 4, 1786, he founded the nearby Mission Santa Barbara (Saint Barbara). The county derives its name from the mission.
Created 1850. The county is named after Mission Santa Clara, which was established in 1777, and named for Saint Clara of Assisi, Italy. The name Clara means “clear” or “bright.”
Created 1850. In the original act, the county was given the name of Branciforte after the Spanish pueblo founded there in 1797. Less than two months later, the name was changed to Santa Cruz. Established in 1791 and completed in 1794, the Santa Cruz Mission was destroyed by earthquake in 1857, but a smaller-scale replica was erected in 1931. Santa Cruz signifies “holy cross.”
Created 1850. This county was named after Mount Shasta. the name Shasta is derived from the English equivalent for the name of a Native American tribe that once lived in the area. The name of the tribe was spelled in various ways until the present version was used when the county was established.
Created 1852. Sierra nevada in Spanish means “snow saw,” applied to the Sierra Nevada mountain chain because of the jagged, serrated, sawtooth peaks forming the skyline.
Created 1852 and named after the mountain range. The origin of the word siskiyou is not known. One version is that it is the Chinook word for “bob-tailed horse.” Another version, given in an argument before the state Senate in 1852, is that the French name Six Callieux, meaning “six-stone,” was given to a ford on the Umpqua River by Michel La Frambeau and a party of Hudson Bay company trappers in 1832, because six large stones or rocks lay in the river where they crossed. Still others attribute the name to a local tribe of Native Americans.
Created 1850. The county derives its name indirectly from that of the Franciscan missionary, Father Francisco Solano, whose name was given in baptism to the chief of one of the Native American tribes of the region. Before receiving the name Solano, the chief was called Sem-yeto, which signifies “brave or fierce hand.” At the request of General Mariano Vallejo, the county was named for Chief Solano, who at one time ruled over most of the land and tribes between the Petaluma Creek and the Sacramento River.
Created 1850. Sonoma is a Chocuyen Native American name translated by some as “Valley of the Moon” and by others as “land or tribe of the Chief Nose.”
Created 1854. The word Stanislaus is a corruption of Estanislao, the baptismal name of a mission-educated renegade chief who led a band of Native Americans in a series of battles against Mexican troops. He was finally defeated by General Mariano G. Vallejo in 1826. The county is named for the Stanislaus River, first discovered by Gabriel Moraga in 1806, and later renamed Rio Estanislao for the chief.
Created 1850. Sutter County was named after General John Augustus Sutter, a native of Switzerland, who obtained a large land grant from the Mexican government and called his first settlement New Helvetia (now the City of Sacramento). In 1841, the general established a great stock ranch in this area to which he retired in 1850 when gold seekers deprived him of most of his holdings at Sacramento.
Created 1856. The county is named for the City of Tehama. Suggested possible roots are the Arabic word tehama (“hot low-lands”), the Mexican word tejamanil (shingle), or “high water” in the dialect of local Native Americans.
Created 1850. It takes its name from the Trinity River, named in 1845 by Major Pearson B. Reading, who was under the mistaken impression that the stream emptied into Trinidad Bay. Trinity is the English version of Trinidad.
Created 1852. While hunting for deserters in 1772, Commandante Fages discovered a great lake surrounded by marshes and filled with rushes which he named Los Tules (the tules). It is from this lake that the county derives its name. The root of the name Tulare is found in the Mexican word tullin, designating cattail or similar reeds.
Created 1850. The name Tuolumne is of Native American origin and has been given different meanings, such as Many Stone Houses, The Land of Mountain Lions and Straight Up Steep, the later an interpretation of William Fuller, a native Chief. In his report to the first state Legislature, Vallejo said that the word is “a corruption of the Native American word talmalamne which signifies “cluster of stone wigwams.” The name may mean “people who dwell in stone houses,” i.e., in caves.
Created 1872. In 1782 the Mission San Buenaventura was founded as San Buenaventura (now known as Ventura). Buenaventura is composed of two Spanish words, buena meaning “good” and ventura meaning “fortune.”
Created 1850. In the original act of 1850, the name was spelled “Yola.” Yolo is a Native American name variously believed to be a corruption of an tribal name Yo-loy meaning “a place abounding in rushes” or of the name of the chief, Yodo, or of the village of Yodoi.
Created 1850. It was named after the Yuba River by Captain John A. Sutter for the Native American village Yubu, Yupu or Juba near the confluence of the Yuba and Feather rivers. Vallejo stated that the river was named Uba by an exploring expedition in 1824 because of the quantities of wild grapes (uvas silvestres in Spanish) which they found growing on its banks.
*One of the original 27 counties of the State of California.