TT: And The Name Goes On

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Just page back one and join me in looking at the question of detail — how to find what you need to know and maybe, just maybe, when enough is too much!  Then be sure to join me and Alan as we take a look at what names can tell about places.

ALAN: Last time you mentioned in passing that the full name of Santa Fe is


actually  La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco. Are long names like that common in your part of the world? And what, if any, is the connection to the city of San Francisco itself?

JANE: As far as I know, there is no connection to the famous San Francisco.  Maybe one of our California-based readers can fill you in on the source of that city’s name.

As for the long names, well, the Spanish did like to name in a fashion that left very little out.   The town of Trampas, up near Taos, is actually named “Santo Tomas Apostel Del Rio de las Trampas.”  A rough translation of this is “Saint Thomas the Apostle of the River of Traps.”

An even better example is Abiquiu.  This word is probably taken from a Tewa (local Indian tribe) word, but no one knows for sure.  However, never ones to leave well enough along, the Spanish combined this with a saint’s name.

The original village of Abiquiu was Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiu.  However, after an attack by Indians, the remaining locals asked if they could move and found another village, they named this one Santo Tomas Apostol de Abiquiu.  They tended to refer to their new home  simply as Abiquiu.  Thus, they made life simpler for themselves while confusing  generations of tourists.

You see, the famous painter Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch is located near Abiquiu.  Tourists often want to get there, but they can’t figure out how to ask for directions.  We locals know Abiquiu is simply pronounced “Ab-i-q” and get to have fun when tourists struggle to pronounce it.  The most usual variation is something like “Ab-ee-qee-ee.”

ALAN: Gosh! Given how many words there are in those names and how long it takes to say them, I’m starting to wonder if the Spanish are descended from Ents!

The religious aspects of some of those names puts me in mind of Halifax in Yorkshire, where I was born. The word “Halifax” is popularly assumed to be a corruption of the phrase “Holy face” – a reference to John The Baptist whose face does indeed appear on the Halifax coat of arms. I’m not quite sure what his connection to a grimy industrial town in the North of England might be. Perhaps he used to visit for his summer holidays…

JANE: Or perhaps he was the patron saint of some important family in the area.  Less amusing, but more likely.

ALAN: When I was eighteen, I moved from Halifax to Nottingham, in the heart of Robin Hood country. That’s where I went to university. Did you know that Nottingham is a corruption of “Snotingehame” which means “the home of the family of Snot,” or perhaps “the town that Snot built”? The unfortunately named Snot was an Anglo-Saxon who settled in the area some time around 600 A.D. The Nottingham area is world famous for its lace industry. I always wondered if the steady production of high quality lace was a ploy to ensure that Robin Hood always had an adequate supply of handkerchiefs…

JANE: Actually, I knew this one.  Walter Jon Williams brought it up when he was running a role-playing game for us set in England in 869.  Please note the precision of the date.  Walter loves history – and has won a couple of awards for alternate history stories.  This meant that he kept filling us in on the historical names of places.  It gave an oddly fantasy note to real places.

ALAN: Of course, Spanish America does not have a monopoly on long names…  I believe New Zealand has the honor of being the location of one of the longest place names in the world.

JANE: That sounds tantalizing, but perhaps we’d better wait until next time to get into something so long.


6 Responses to “TT: And The Name Goes On”

  1. Peter Says:

    A lot of the long place names come down to different colonization patterns – a lot of cities in the Spanish Americas were founded by missionaries, who naturally named their new habitation after their patron saint (you see the same pattern in French Canada). The thing is, there is a limited (if large) number of saints, so they often added further descriptors (The City of Saint Louis the King of the Royal Mines of Potosi, for example, named after the patron saint and the nearby silver mines, which were in turn named optimistically after the very productive silver mine in Bolivia) to distinguish that particular Saint Louis from any of the other cities named after the same saint. Secular administrators tended to be rather simpler in their naming, as can be seen in the former provinces of Red, Snowy, Flowery, Hot, and Dry, or the Silver river by the city of Good Air in the country of Gold.

    The best place name ever, of course, is the village of Torpenhow in Cumbria.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Okay… I’ll bite. Why? Torpenhow in Cumbria doesn’t tell me anything!

      • Peter Says:

        Tor (Old English): Hill.
        Pen (Welsh): Hill.
        How (Danish): Hill.

        The early history of the island in a single name.

        Sadly there is not, as far as I know, a Torpenhow Hill (nor a Torpenhowmont, which would get us past 1066).

  2. heteromeles Says:

    As Peter said. San Francisco was named for St. Francis of Assisi. Los Angeles was named either “El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles” or “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Porciuncula,” which is why it gets called LA now.

    San Francisco was named for the mission, which supported the presidio (fort) at the mouth of the Golden Gate, as well as pacifying the natives. The town was originally called Yerba Buena (after a local mint), and an alternative name for the mission was Mission Dolores. Those later two names are now districts in SF.

    Los Angeles was the town (pueblo), while San Gabriel was the mission. There’s a separate town of San Gabriel in Los Angeles County, but then again, there are 90 odd separate towns and cities in Los Angeles County. Think of LA as the scone, with places like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, and San Gabriel as the raisins and nuts inside it. Did I say that LA politics is messy? Given the massive urban sprawl there now, it’s difficult to realize that most of the place was farmland 75 years ago.

    The fun name is Tijuana. Most people (including me) thought it was “Tia Juana” (Aunt Jane). It’s actually from a Kumeyaay word (tiwan) that means “by the sea.”

    • Peter Says:

      And by “San Francisco” I assume you mean “the one in California”, not the one in Argentina, the one in Chile, one of the three in Colombia, the one in Costa Rica, the one in the Dominican Republic, one of the three in Honduras, the one in Guatemala, one of the six in (unoccupied) Mexico, the one in Nicaragua, one of the six in the Philippines, the one in Puerto Rico, or the one in Spain (and I’m probably missing some.)

      Disambiguation is the reason for the long formal names (in practice most people will use the short version to refer to the closest one – if you’re in Spain and say you’re going to the city of Saint James, very few people will assume you’re flying to the city in Cuba where Fidel Castro proclaimed the victory of the revolution or to the capitol of Chile rather than the pilgrimage site in Galicia.)

  3. janelindskold Says:


    Torpenhow… That is Wonderful!

    I love details like that!

    Wait. I think I’ve said that somewhere. <grin)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: