Sixty-Five More Los Angeles Placenames In Search Of Their Origins

Inspired by Militant Angeleno’s awesome “88 Suburbs In Search Of Their Names” post from last week and equipped with the indispensable “1500 California Place Names” by William Bright, I decided to crack the latter open and see if I couldn’t add to the former’s impressive list of suburbs ‘n stuff. Turns out I could. Some are almost too obvious or well known to mention (Century City? Duh) and some are about as obscure as it gets (Lamanda Park?), but I mention them anyway — and there are a few that are pretty cool (check out the the 220-year-old typo that is Point Dume and the darkness that lurks behind the meaning of “Verdugo”).

So without further to-do, here’s my 65 supplemental places (64 in Los Angeles County and a 471-year-old one just up PCH in Ventura County). Enjoy!

Angeles National Forest: So named in 1908 because the larger part of the forest is within Los Angeles County.

Antelope Valley: Named not for a true antelope, but for the pronghorn (pictured) — the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere — which was once abundant in the state.

Ballona Creek: From the Ballona land grant of 1839; probably a misspelling of Bayona, the name of a town in Spain.

Bel-Air: Named for its developer, Alphonso Bell, in 1923, on the model of French bel air, meaning “fresh air.”

Bouquet Canyon: A misinterpretation of Spanish El Buque, “the ship,” the nickname of a French sailor who settled there.

Brentwood: Named after Brentwood in Essex, England, the ancestral home landowner John Marsh.

Cahuenga Pass: From the Gabrielino village name kawé’nga, probably meaning “at the mountain.”

Canoga Park: Named in the 1890s after Canoga, New York, which was originally a Cayuga (Iroquoian) village.

Castaic: From Ventureño Chumas kashtiq, “the eye, the face”.

Centinela Creek: From the Spanish word for “sentry, sentinel.”

Century City: Named for 20th Century Fox film studios, on the site of which it was built, starting in 1961.

Chatsworth: Named in 1887 after the estate of the Duke of Devonshire in England.

Chilao: Formerly Chileo or Chilleo, a nickname of the herder Jose Gonzales, famous for killing a grizzly bear near here with only a hunting knife. Chil- what? Yeah, me too. It’s primarily a campground area waaay up in the Angeles National Forest.

La Cienega Boulevard: The Spanish term cienega refers to a marsh or a marshy meadow.

Descanso Gardens: For the Spanish word meaning “rest, repose.”

Dominguez Hills: Named for the rancho granted to Juan Jose Dominguez around 1874.

Dume Point: The name was given to the cape by George Vancouver in 1793, in honor of Padre Francisco Dumetz of Mission San Buenaventura, but it was misspelled as “Dume” on Vancouver’s map and has never been corrected.

Eagle Rock: So named because the shadow of the rock (seen at left) resembles the outline of an eagle.

Encino: Also a variant of encina, “live oak”; the name was applied here around 1840.

Fermin Point: Named by George Vancouver in 1793 in honor of Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, whose name also occurs in Lasuen Point.

Gorman: Named in 1877 for H. Gorman, the first postmaster.

Granada Hills: Named for the one-time Moorish city in Spain

Hollywood: Named in 1886, perhaps for a Hollywood in the eastern United States, or perhaps for Hollywood in County Wicklow, Ireland. The holly bush of the eastern United States does not thrive in Southern California, however the California holly, or toyon, is abundant in the Hollywood Hills.

Holmby Hills: Named after Holmby, England, birthplace of landowner Arthur Letts, Sr., founder of the Broadway Department Store.

La Brea Avenue: The Spanish name means “the tar,” hence the common phrase La Brea Tar Pits is redundant.

La Crescenta: Not Spanish for “the crescent,” which would be la creciente. The artificial name was given in the early 1880s by Dr. Benjamin B. Briggs, who said he could see three crescent-shaped land formations from his home.

La Tuna Canyon: Does not refer to tuna fish, but rather is from Spanish tuna, the prickly pear (pictured at right).

Lamanda Park: The name was coined in 1886 by Leonard Rose, who added the L from his own name to his wife’s given name, Amanda. Lamanda Park is a region within Pasadena, if you MUST know. I sure didn’t.

Lasuen Point: Named in 1792 for Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen (pictured at left), whose name also occurs in Point Fermin.

Las Virgenes Creek: Spanish for “the virgins,” the name was given in 1802, referring to the virgin martyrs of the church calendar.

Lennox: Named sometime before 1923 after Lenox, Massachusetts.

Liebre Mountain: From the Spanish word for “jackrabbit,” applied in 1825. Unfamiliar with it? You’re not alone. It’s located about 70 miles from Los Angeles.

Llano: Spanish for “plain.” Located about 25 miles southeast of Palmdale.

Los Feliz: The name of an 1843 land grant, it means “the Feliz family,” referring to the heirs of Jose Feliz (also spelled Felis and Felix) who settled near here in 1813.

Mar Vista: The name, given in 1904, is psuedo-Spanish, suggesting “view of the sea.”

Mugu Point: This name was recorded by Spanish explorers in 1542 and so may have the distinction of being the oldest native California name in continuous written use. It was applied to a Chumash village that the Spanish called muwu, “beach” (Ventura County, not Los Angeles County, but with its proximity such a history bears mention).

Mount Wilson: Named in 1864 for Benjamin D. (“Don Benito”) Wilson, who built a burro trail up the mountain. He was the first mayor of Los Angeles under United States rule.

Newhall: Named in 1876 for the landowner Henry M. Newhall.

Pacoima: The Gabrielino name may mean “running water.”

Pacific Palisades: A term used to refer to various types of steep elevations or cliffs.

Playa Del Rey: Spanish for “beach of the king,” it was founded as a recreation area and given its name in 1902.

Portugeuse Bend: Named for Joseph Clark (Machado), a native of the Azores, who operated a fleet of whaling ships in California waters around 1860.

Reseda: The botanical genus name for the garden plant mignonette, applied here around 1895.

Rio Hondo: Spanish for “deep river.”

San Marino: The term was transferred from a place in Maryland, named after the tiny republic surrounded by Italy; this in turn was named for a saintly Italian stonemason and hermit of the fourth century.

San Pedro: Refers to Saint Peter the Apostle. The name was given to San Pedro Bay in 1542, to a land grant in 1784, and to the modern town in 1854.

San Vicente Mountain: Refers to one of several holy men called Saint Vincent. The name is recorded since 1802. It’s nearest to Mandeville Canyon Road and Mulholland Drive south of the Encino Reservoir.

Santa Catalina: Named in 1602 after Saint Catherine (seen at right), the royal virgin and martyr of Alexandria. According to legend, she was the most beautiful and learned woman of her day. After she had converted many members of the Roman emperor’s court to Christianity, the enraged monarch had her executed on a revolving wheel studded with sharp blades.

Santa Clara River: So named in 1769, it refers to Saint Clair of Assisi, a Franciscan saint of the 13th century

Saugus: Named in 1878 after a town in Massachusetts. The term is Algonquian for “outlet.”

Sepulveda: Named in 1873 for the family of Fernando Sepulveda, an early settler.

Sylmar: Supposed to mean “sea of trees,” from Latin silva, “forest,” plus Spanish mar, “sea,” referring to the large olive tree groves that were once here.

Tarzana: Named in 1917 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author who created the famous fictional character Tarzan.

Temescal Canyon: This Mexican Spanish word means “sweat house,” referring to the small house used by Indians for sweating and bathing.

Toluca Lake: The name Toluca was originally applied to the settlement of North Hollywood. It was probably a transfer name from the city of Toluca in Mexico, derived from Aztec tolocan.

Topanga Creek: A Gabrielino place name, topa’nga, of unknown origin.

Trancas Canyon: The name is Spanish for “barriers,” often referring to cattle guards.

Tujunga: The name of a Gabrielino village, its origin is not known.

Valyermo: A combination of two Spanish elements: val for valle, “valley,” plus yermo, “barren.” Never heard of it? Yeah, moi aussi. It’s an unincorporated town located in the Mojave Desert.

Van Nuys: Named in 1912 for Isaac N. Van Nuys, who grew wheat in the area.

Vasquez Rocks: Named for bandit Tiburcio Vasquez (pictured at left), who had a hideout in this area. He was captured in 1874 and executed.

Venice: Built in 1904 with a system of canals for thoroughfares, complete with gondoliers, in imitation of Venice, Italy.

Verdugo Canyon: Named for a family of early settlers; Jose Maria Verdugo received a land grant in 1784. The Spanish name has nothing to do with verde, “green,” it means “hangman” or “executioner.”

Walteria: For a Captain Walters, who built a hotel here in the early 20th century. Never heard of it? Me neither. It’s a region within the city of Torrance.

Wilmington: Named in 1863 by the founder, Phineas Banning, after his birthplace in Delaware.

Winnetka: Named in 1947 after Winnetka, Illinois, that name is said to have been coined by whites on the basis of the Algonquian winne, “beautiful.”

4 thoughts on “Sixty-Five More Los Angeles Placenames In Search Of Their Origins”

  1. OMG someone just beat The Militant to these…but it’s by Will Campbell so it’s cool B> Great work, all these names will no longer be forgotten secrets anymore.

    Just wanna add that the origins of “Topanga” and “Tujunga” are known; they’re Tongva names for “The place above/The heavenly place” and “Place of the mountain range,” respectively.

  2. I don’t suppose you would know why a small portion of East Los Angeles has the name Wellington Heights?

    1. That’s a good one, Eastern. It’s not in the book by William Bright I used as my source. I did some preliminary googling and found a lot of references to the Wellington Heights neighborhood, but couldn’t unearth the origin of its name.

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