ORIGIN OF THE NAME CALIFORNIA
The origin of the name "California" is a mystery that may never be solved. The precisedate and
circumstances surrounding the application of the name to some partof what is now called "Baja
California" (or Lower California) is not known. The historian Antonio de Herrera in 1601 stated
that it was definitely the Great Conquistador Cortes "who placed this name upon it."
Whatis known, is that the discovery of the New World by Columbus in 1492 gave a strong
momentum to the age-old search for an earthly paradise with unbounded productiveness without
labor, beautiful women, gold and pearls. Among a number of such utopias, created by the fertile
imaginations of fiction writers and ambitious explorers of the period, was the rich island of
"California," inhabited by handsome black women like Amazons.
The story of this extraordinary realm and its Queen Califia was recounted andpublished in
about 1510 in Las Sergas de Esplandian(The Deeds of Esplandian), by the Spanish writer,
Garci Ordonez de Montalvo, as a continuation of the famous romance, Amadís de Gaula. It
was the Boston Unitarian minister and writer, Edward Everett Hale, who in 1862 pointed out the
probable connection between the name of the utopia and the name of the State.
The location attributed to this island places it definitely in the same group as El Dorado, the
Seven Cities of Cibola, Quivira, and other realms eagerly sought by the Spanish conquerors. The
story hinges on a supposed siege of Constantinople, when all the forces ofpaganism launched
an attack against the emperor and his Christian allies in the city. In the midst of the siege the
pagans received unexpected succor from Queen Califia of the island California. (The original
spelling of thequeen's name, CALAFIA, has been slightly altered to avoid confusion.)
Here is the story as it appears in the Sergas:
"I wish that you should now know of a matter so very strange that neither in writings nor from
the memory of people is it possible to discover how on the following day the city was on the
point of being lost and how in thatmoment of peril it was saved.
Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island named California, very close to that
part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women, without a single man
among them, and that they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body, with
strong and passionate hearts and great virtues.
The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks. Their
weapons were all made of gold . . . The island everywhere abounds with gold and precious
stones, and upon it no other metal was found. They lived in caves well excavated. They had
many ships with which they sailed to other coasts to make forays, and the men whom they took
as prisoners they killed . . .
In this island, named California, there are many griffins . . . In no other part of the world can they
be found. . . . [And] there ruled over that island of California a queen of majestic proportions,
more beautiful than all others, and in the very vigor of her womanhood. She was desirous of