'The thing that convinced me that I should write the book on San Diego place names was the discovery of errors in earlier books on the subject," writes Leland Fetzer in the preface of his new book, San Diego County Place Names A to Z. The book is encyclopedic, with information on more than 1600 San Diego locations. On Saturday, August 20, Fetzer will discuss his book at Rudolph Schiller's Bookstore in Old Town. "I am less patient when I observe the same error repeated again and again in different sources," writes Fetzer, who was unavailable for comment. "This indicates that writers have simply copied from their predecessors without questioning the accuracy." These erroneous statements include "Guatay means 'large rock,'" "Batequitos means 'little baptized girls,'" and "Wire Mountain was named for the nearby Marine Communication School."
"There's a lot of misinformation out there," says the book's editor, Jennifer Redmond. "The Loveland Reservoir was supposedly named for a farmer, but it turns out that it was named for Chester H. Loveland, president of the California Water and Telephone Corporation, [which was] the company that built the dam."
"One of [Fetzer's] pet peeves is that developers will come up with names that don't reflect history or something descriptive [of the location]," Redmond shares. Fetzer writes that he's excluded most "recent, forgettable names" like Vacation Isle or Riviera Shores.
"[Those names] don't say anything about San Diego; they could be anywhere," says Redmond. "Carlsbad or Coronado hearken to history, whereas Vacation Isle -- what does that mean? It's like saying, 'Nice place to take a vacation.'"
Fetzer writes, "I think that a resident of El Cajon would like to know that the Kumeyaay [Indians] called this valley something like Matari, 'wide valley.' The mission fathers called it Santa Monica, and Spanish-speaking laymen called it Rancho El Cajon, 'the box,' because it appeared to have no exit."
Every entry in San Diego County Place Names A to Z includes the area's name, a translation (if necessary), a general location, commentary, and references to earlier investigations. "The bibliography is very thorough," says Redmond.
Of all the name origins she has read, Redmond's favorite is La Jolla. Many people believe La Jolla comes from the Spanish word joya ("jewel"). "And they really want it to mean 'jewel,'" says Redmond. The most likely source for the town's name is a Spanish geographical term, hoya, also spelled joya or jolla, referring to hollows on the coast worn by waves. There are many caves in La Jolla. "People think the word 'jewel' has a fancier connotation than a place that has holes or caves," says Redmond. "Margaret Langdon [an authority on the language of the indigenous people, the Kumeyaay] asserts that the word's origin may lie in Kumeyaay, and that word is matku-laahuuy, a place that has holes or caves. It could be from either [Kumeyaay or Spanish], but it almost definitely is not derived from the Spanish word for jewel, joya. "
Another place name fraught with misinformation is Carlsbad. "Writers say that Carlsbad changed its name to Carl during the First World War, but there is nothing to support the statement," Fetzer writes. "When an untruth is repeated it is called a canard, a duck. The most famous canard in American history is George Washington's cherry tree, while San Diego's hardiest duck is the claim that Julian nearly became the county seat in the early 1870s."
Fetzer informs his readers that because he has included names from the past, "The book can also serve as a finding list for names not found on contemporary maps."
"Long ago I read that the heaviest annual rainfall ever recorded in the county was at Nellie, but I couldn't find Nellie on any current maps. This book would have told me that Nellie was the name of the post office for the community on Palomar Mountain from 1883 to 1920."
Brownfield Naval Auxiliary Air Station, located east of Imperial Beach, was named after Melville S. Brown, who died while trying to land his aircraft near Descanso on November 2, 1936. "Generals and admirals, understandably, choose to name military posts for other generals and admirals. But there is an exception to this rule: according to U.S. Signal Corps policy, army airfields were to be named for men, usually junior officers, who died in airplane crashes in the line of duty. I am happy to include in my book the names of these young men who died too soon." -- Barbarella
San Diego County Place Names A to Z
Lecture and booksigning
Saturday, August 20
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Rudolph Schiller's Bookstore
2754 Calhoun Street