California Place Names

Ever wonder where that place name came from?  I found a scanned copy of a 1916 journal article “California Place Names of Indian Origin” on the UC Berkeley Library website.  Check out this entry for Azusa:



Ha!  I like footnote #6, and I paraphrase: some guy living in Azusa quotes some other guy who’s godfather said it means “skunk hill” because of the skunks, the small polecat variety, on the hill named “Azuncsabit” by the Indians, east of the town where the ranch house of the grant stood.

And here I thought Azusa got it’s name from the phrase “the best city from A to Z in the USA!”

You can download the PDF of the journal article here.

I also bought this book many years ago and it’s pretty interesting if you are into the etymology of place names:


Cold War LA

Between 1956 and 1974 those living in Los Angeles had little idea that they were surrounded by numerous nuclear warheads.  16 Nike missile sites as well as radar and control sites were established to defend the Los Angeles area, just in case Russia decided to send their bombers our way.  Read about it and more on the Cold War LA website!


Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas

The term “phantom island” refers to an island that appeared on historical maps (sometimes for many years) even though it doesn’t exist.  Most phantom islands emerged from the era of European sea exploration and colonization.  Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas is a project that pairs original sound recordings with 27 phantom islands.  Each of these islands are placed according to their coordinates on historical maps.  Visitors can explore these individual islands by either taking a “cruise” or by navigating with their cursor.  As one visits each island, they will hear a unique soundscape and can read about the island’s history, including the date of the island’s first and last appearance in print.  Check it out!


The Phantom Atlas

Looking for a gift for someone who loves maps?  Take a look at The Phantom Atlas.  Long before satellites and Google, cartographers traced out maps of the world, some with errors that persisted for hundreds of years.  The Phantom Atlas compiles the greatest “myths, lies and blunders” on maps, from honest mistakes to deliberate lies.  Check out this interview with the author:

Hardcover and Kindle versions available on Amazon: