Spanish in Santa Cruz County place names

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Spanish language words are common in Santa Cruz County place names

California's official language was Spanish for about 80 years, and the first recorded names for most places were in Spanish. Many of those early names and geographical terms have survived, and many more Spanish names have been added since California became part of the United States. Since Santa Cruz County was one of the areas settled by Spanish-speakers, many examples of Spanish in place-naming can be found in our area. Many of the names are descriptive, or derived from important names in California history. Unusual names often have their own interesting histories. Only a few of the many no-longer-used historical Spanish place names are included - mainly ones with connections to today’s non-Spanish place names. In addition to our local region, a few important more-general names are included here, along with other Spanish terms commonly found in the local history literature. A concise timeline of the Spanish-speaking era in California will help give context:

  • 1510 - California. The name of our state has an interesting origin. A popular 15th-century Spanish novelist wrote of a mythical island called California, inhabited by Amazons. Early Spanish explorers of the Baja California peninsula at first thought it was a large island, and gave it the fictional name. By the time the geography mistake was realized, the name had stuck.
  • 1543 - Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s maritime expedition included the first recorded sighting of the future Santa Cruz County coastline by Europeans but, if he bestowed any place names here, they were lost, forgotten, or changed by later explorers.
  • 1565 - Establishment of a trade route between Spanish colonies in Mexico and the Philippines brought the “Manila galleons” near our shores on their annual return journeys from Asia, but there are no recorded intentional landings in our area during those years (there were, no doubt, shipwrecks along our rocky and foggy coast).
  • 1602 - Sebastián Vizcaíno’s maritime expedition charted the coastline, noting the location of a good harbor at the southern end of what he named the Bahia de Monterrey (renaming Cabrillo’s Bahia de los Pinos) He also named the most prominent physical feature near the northern boundary of Santa Cruz County - Point Año Nuevo.
  • 1769-70 - Gaspar de Portolá’s expedition, first Europeans to explore California on foot, set out with a primary goal of finding Vizcaíno’s good harbor. Failing to recognize the place the first time they passed it, the expedition continued north until stopped by the Golden Gate. Their march north and back again took them through our area, crossing and naming Rio de Pajaro, Rio de San Lorenzo, and Arroyo de Santa Cruz. All the places Portolá visited were claimed for the Viceroyalty of New Spain, the North American part of the Spanish monarchy’s colonial empire.
  • 1791 - Mission Santa Cruz founded.
  • 1797 - Villa de Branciforte founded.
  • 1804 - Las Californias province formally divided into Alta California and Baja California.
  • 1821 - Mexico (including California) gained independence from the Spanish Empire.
  • 1834 - With the secularization of Mission Santa Cruz, most of the former mission lands were broken up into large private land grants, called ranchos.
  • 1846 - The Mexican-American War began in June. No battles were fought in Santa Cruz County.
  • 1848 - The treaty formally ending the war ceded Alta California to the United States of America, marking the end of Spanish as the official language.

Name categories

Native American names

(phonetically transliterated into Spanish). There are many of these in California, but only a handful in Santa Cruz County: Aptos, Soquel, Zayante, and the local shellfish called abalone (see History Pages: 1 - The Ohlone).

Proper names

Relative to some other areas of the former Alta California, Santa Cruz County has been stingy in application of Spanish proper names as place names. Those we have fall mostly into two categories. There are the early explorers and government officials: Branciforte, Cabrillo, Monterey, Portolá. The second category is early settler family names, including: Amesti, Arana, Castro, and Rodriguez.

A special category of proper names is saints: favored as place names by early Franciscan missionaries such as Juan Crespí who, as a member of the 1769 Portolá expedition, gave us the Rio de San Lorenzo (the literal translation is Saint Lawrence River, but we've stuck with San Lorenzo). The river name has subsequently produced a number of what Donald Clark calls “cluster names” - most associated with the river, such as San Lorenzo Valley.

One local anomaly is Santa Cruz, which translates as “Holy Cross” rather than “Saint Cross”. Compare that translation to Santa Clara (Saint Clare), companion of San Francisco (Saint Francis), founder of the Franciscan order that supplied all of the missionary priests for the California missions.

American-era Spanish

There has been a renaissance of Spanish place names in the 20th century, led by real estate developers. While perhaps helping to create a romantic ambience, these names usually have little historical value. Recent origins of a Spanish name are not always immediately obvious, but there are a few “tells”: Multiple-word names (excluding proper names) not including a preposition, e.g. Branciforte Plaza, are suspect. Proper Spanish syntax would be Plaza de Branciforte. “Mar Vista” (sea view) should be Vista del Mar. A similar giveaway in multi-word names is when an adjective precedes a noun, with one exception: Buena Vista (good view), which was commonly used in New Spain (often one word). Typical Spanish syntax in these noun + adjective combinations is the reverse of English: adjectives usually follow nouns, e.g. Loma Prieta (literally “hill dark-colored”). Any other multiple-word name including “Vista” is also likely to be a modern real-estate sales pitch.

Dropped initial article: in Spanish, unlike English, nouns have gender and are usually (unless part of a prepositional phrase) written accompanied by either el (masculine singular, as in El Rancho) or la (feminine singular, as in La Madrona). The plural forms are los and las, respectively (e.g. Los Olivos, Las Lomas). Sometimes the dropped article indicates anglicization of an older Spanish name, rather than a new application of incorrect syntax, e.g. Rodeo Gulch. One other acceptable case of dropped initial articles was in proper names, such as the naming of the large land grants called ranchos (see later entry).

A more commendable modern trend has been to bring back historical Spanish-era names and apply them in ways that recall the early history of a place. Several examples are included in the list below.

Alphabetical word list

Abalone. Our name for a local shellfish is one of a small number of English words derived from a local indigenous language. Since the Native Americans of California had no written languages, the word abalone came to us through phonetic spelling - the spoken word as heard by early California Spanish-speakers (also spelled avalone).

Interestingly, although the natives prized the big mollusks as food, neither the Spanish nor 19th-century Anglo-Americans developed a taste for it. It remained for early Chinese immigrant fishermen to begin the commercial harvesting of abalone for drying and shipment to San Francisco, and from there on to China. Donald Clark’s geographical dictionary notes “China Ladder” as the local name for a north-coast access point used by abalone harvesters. Abalone are still found in Monterey Bay, and there are commercial farming operations in Davenport and Monterey.

Adobe. The clayey mud used to make the bricks with which early walls were built. A few adobe structures survive in the county. Use of the word in naming a structure is an anglicization, e.g. “Castro Adobe”.

Agua means ‘water’. Place names often combine agua with a descriptive adjective or suffix.

  • Agua Caliente (hot water) usually denotes a hot spring.
  • Agua Puerca (pig water) is the idiomatic name given to a creek near Davenport, probably because of the stagnant pool near its outlet. (C)
  • Aguaje (spring or reservoir); Aguajito (little spring). Both names can be found in Monterey County.
  • Tres Ojos de Agua (three eyes of water). A poetic name given to a group of springs that the padres channeled to provide water for the mission complex a mile away. The name was later transferred to a land grant.

Alta. The word means ‘high’, both for height and intensity. For place names, it usually denotes a high place, except in Alta California, as noted in the next entry.

Alta California. The Spanish divided California into Alta (upper, northern) and Baja (lower, southern). Several streets in Santa Cruz County include Alta in their names.

Alto del Jamon. (C) The masculine form of alta is used with masculine nouns, with the same meaning. A hill near Swanton (later called Giannone Hill) once had this odd name, literally “High Place of the Ham”. According to Portolá diarist Juan Crespi, the name was bestowed by soldiers of the 1769 expedition, but he gave no explanation. Did they eat ham there (which would have been a special treat)? Did the shape of the hill remind them of a ham? The soldiers couldn’t have been referring to a live pig - there were no pigs in California until later Spanish settlers brought them. The word puerco (pig) was used at another place nearby, making a live pig reference even more unlikely. Was it some sort of idiomatic soldier-speak? That seems plausible – an expression or joke that Crespi either didn’t get or wouldn’t explain because it was too vulgar and/or unimportant for inclusion in the official missionary diary.

Año Nuevo. (C) The projecting point of land just beyond the northern boundary of Santa Cruz County was sighted from offshore and named Punta Año Nuevo (Point New Year) by the Vizcaíno expedition in 1602.

Aptos. Like abalone, Aptos is an anglicization of a Spanish phonetic spelling of a native word. There’s disagreement over the original meaning, but it was used in Mission Santa Cruz records to indicate a particular native village and/or tribal group.The Spanish used the word ranchería for such villages and/or groups. Today’s Aptos Village remembers the ranchería.

Arana. The surname of José Arana, grantee of Rancho Potrero y Rincón de San Pedro Regalado, and later a resident in the “gulch” that remembers his name (see also: entries for Potrero and Rincón).

Arroyo (creek, stream). Most of the former arroyos have been renamed “creek”. Those that remain are mostly of the two-word noun + adjective variety, e,g, Arroyo Seco. Literally translated “creek dry”, it’s a common name around California, where many creeks are seasonal. Our local Arroyo Seco is on the far Westside of Santa Cruz, cutting down through the escalona bluffs from Meder Street next to University Terrace Park to Grandview Avenue near Mission and Swift Streets. Oddly, a street nearby (but not on the creek) also wears the name, without an added “street” or “drive”. The Gold Rush era term “gulch” is also found applied to a few local arroyos.

Bahia (bay). Sebastián Vizcaíno was not the first explorer to visit our area, or the first to give our bay a name, but his name is the one that stuck (see Monterey below).

Bolsa (pocket). An area of dry land with marsh on three sides was often referred to as a bolsa, especially near the coast. For instance, one of the old ranchos, situated between the Pajaro River and the Watsonville sloughs, was named Bolsa del Pajaro.

Borregas (sheep or lambs). Borregas Gulch runs adjacent to the Cabrillo College campus, and was part of the boundary between Rancho Soquel and Rancho Aptos. Presumably, someone in the area kept sheep. The original Rancho Soquel diseño (claim map) has the name Sanjon de Borregas, which is odd. The word sanjon, also spelled sanja, zanja, or zanjon, usually refers to a man-made ditch or trench. The Aptos diseño also has Sanjon, but not Borregas.

Branciforte. (C) An interesting proper name. Its source was similar to “Monterey” - the name of another Viceroy of New Spain. The viceroy so honored was, however, Sicilian by birth rather than Spanish. Branciforte’s name was applied to the Villa de Branciforte, third and last of the civilian pueblos established under Spanish rule in California (San Jose and Los Angeles are the others). You could say that Branciforte was the first Italian name in California.

Calabazas (pumpkins, gourds). The former Laguna de las Calabazas is now known as Corralitos Lagoon. Local spelling later replaced the “z” with an “s”. Today’s Calabasas Road runs nearby. This is one of the few food names to be found here.

Calle indicated a city street; Camino, literally meaning “way”, was applied to main roads. Some early rancheros labeled the long driveway leading from the main road to the casa as Camino del Rancho (on the diseño, a crude map submitted with land grant petitions) All instances of these terms in Santa Cruz County are modern, as is the popular but historically non-existent street name “Calle Real”. El Camino Real (in California) is another modern invention, or maybe a re-invention. The Soquel and Aptos rancho diseños have the main Santa Cruz-Watsonville road that runs through them labeled Camino Real, twenty-five years or more after Mexico became independent of everything “royal”. Local history pride in the 1840s?

Cañada (steep-sided valley). More common elsewhere in the state, as are the related valle (valley), and cañon, equiv. to the English “canyon” (see entry below for Rincon). In recent years, a forgotten name from the Portolá expedition has been re-applied to the lower Waddell Creek area. La Cañada de la Salud (The Valley of Good Health) is now part of Big Basin State Park.

Capitola. The city’s name sounds vaguely Spanish, but isn’t. See Clark for the story.

Carbonera (place where charcoal is made). Modern usage is from the large land grant called Rancho la Carbonera. On some older maps, the masculine form carbonero is used, meaning a laborer who makes charcoal. Incidentally, carbonero is also the Spanish name for a chickadee, a bird that’s very common in the rancho area.

Casa (house, home). One of the most commonly-used Spanish nouns in neo-Spanish place names is rarely used for historical places. The few remaining historic Mexican-era structures in our county tend to be known instead as adobes, because they were constructed with adobe clay bricks. Thus we have the “Castro Adobe”, rather than the “Casa de Castro”. The word casa is used on all the old rancho diseños to indicate the main ranch dwelling.

Chaparral. The name of a common California plant community; characterized by low, dense brushy growth. The name is derived from the Spanish chaparro, meaning short or squat. Many California trees and plants have kept their Spanish common names, especially those unique to formerly Spanish-language areas: e.g. madrone, manzanita.

Corona (crown). The highest point in DeLaveaga Park is known as La Corona.

Corral (livestock enclosure). The word has been adopted into American English, but in Santa Cruz County we’re also familiar with the diminutive plural form - Corralitos.

Costa (coast). The indigenous Californians we now call Ohlone were referred to by the early Spaniards as Costanoan, because they lived on the coast. It’s not clear why such a generic designation was used only in our section of the coast (roughly Carmel to San Francisco). In some other Spanish-colonized parts of California, indigenes were named according to the mission jurisdiction they fell under - e.g. Gabrieleños lived near Mission San Gabriel. Note: this word is spelled the same, with the same meaning, in both Spanish and Italian, and the Italian is more commonly seen today in Santa Cruz County.

Cotoni ranchería

Cuesta. This word, meaning a slope or grade - especially of a road or trail - has an especially interesting history in Santa Cruz County. Be sure to read Donald Clark’s entry on Cuesta de los Gatos, where decades of naming confusion led even the nonpareil Clark to repeat an earlier writer’s error - who mis-translated the word as “ridge”. Maybe that writer was thinking of the similar cresta, an exact parallel to the English “crest”. For an example of accurate descriptive naming, climb the steep, steady grade of Cuesta Drive in Aptos. Or, next time you travel south on U.S. Highway 101, notice the steep and steady descent of the redundantly-named Cuesta Grade into San Luis Obispo. CalTrans lost even more translation points by naming the top of the cuesta “Cuesta Pass” (sigh). One might advise a tourist to climb la cuesta from la costa to la cresta.

DeLaveaga. José Vincent de Laveaga, although a native of Mexico, became wealthy in San Francisco before moving to Santa Cruz in the 1870s, where he acquired the large estate that he later bequeathed to the city for a park. The City of Santa Cruz seems undecided about whether or not to put a space after “De” - it’s shown both ways on the park’s web page. Starting a place name with “De” (and capitalizing) is an anglicization anyway, so there’s no right or wrong. I like the look of it better without the space, and many family names (esp. in Romance languages) have lost their internal spaces and/or capitalization over the generations. In some names, all the variations can be found: e.g. de la Torre, De la Torre, De La Torre, DeLaTorre, Delatorre.

Del Mar, Del Rio, etc. Beginning a place name with “Del” is an anglicization. Rio del Mar is better Spanish.

El Jarro. (the jar or jug). One of the original north coast land grants was called Rancho el Jarro (later changed). The origin of the name is a mystery, as is the odd syntax (“el” rather than “del”). Today, El Jarro Point is a coastal bluff feature at Scott Creek State Beach.

El Portal (the front or main door, gate or entryway). Equivalent to the English “portal”, although we don’t use the word much in geography. The small triangular park at the acute-angled junction of Water Street and Soquel Avenue was given the name by the City of Santa Cruz, in 1910. Those familiar with Yosemite National Park will know the little community of El Portal, located at the main entrance to the Park. A more general term for a door or doorway is entrada.

Escalona (staircase, steps). Refers to the “marine terrace” geography that begins on the westside of Santa Cruz and extends northward up the coast.

Lago/Laguna. The Spanish word for “lake” is not common here, but can be found at the “Vista del Lago” community in Scotts Valley. More common in our coastal area is laguna, the Spanish version of the English word “lagoon”. Lago is another word that’s the same in either Spanish or Italian. The Spanish term for a saltwater or brackish coastal laguna is estero (equiv. To “estuary”).

La Selva. La Selva Beach is a real estate developer’s name, given to the former Manresa (see later entry). La Selva, which translates to “the jungle” - is not a term explorers coming from Mexico would have applied to any place in California.

Loma (hill, low ridge). In proper syntax, the word is found combined either with a leading article (“Las Lomas”) or a following adjective (“Loma Alta”). Our tallest visible mountain peak is confusingly called Loma Prieta (dark hill).

Manresa. From a 1925 College of Santa Clara-owned retreat named “Villa Manresa”. Named for a town in Spain, the memory lives on at Manresa Beach State Park.

Manzana (apple). Manzanita (little apple) became a plant name, maybe due to the shape of the flowers.

Misión. Anglicized as “mission”; not from Spanish but much earlier from Latin, probably via Norman French.

Molino. A mill, especially one powered by a water wheel. Today there’s a Molino Creek near Davenport. Clark notes that the word is on the original diseño (claim map) of Rancho San Vicente, and was perhaps originally molinillo (little mill).

Monte. This word has two unrelated meanings: one is Spanish and the other is American confusion. The original Spanish meaning was “woods” or “thicket”. In Italian, however, the word means “mount” or “mountain”, leading to confusion among English-speakers. On top of that, in modern times Spanish-speakers have adopted the Italian definition as well as the original Spanish. Any California two-word place name beginning with “Monte” is either invented (e.g. “Monte Vista”), of Italian derivation (e.g. “Monte Sereno”), and/or a product of this Spanish/Italian confusion. In Monterey, the word was used properly in the name “Hotel del Monte”, now remembered and Americanized on Del Monte Blvd.

Monterey. In 1602, Vizcaíno named our bay in honor of Gaspar de Zúñiga Acevedo y Fonseca, quinto conde de Monterrey (or Monterrei), who was Viceroy of New Spain at the time. In American times, one of the double “r”s was dropped and the word order reversed; thus La Bahia de Monterrey eventually evolved into Monterey Bay. Monterey is the oldest surviving Spanish-derived municipality name in our area, and the second oldest in California (after San Diego).

Pajaro (bird). The first Santa Cruz County place named by non-indigenes was the Rio del Pajáro. The Portolá expedition camped near the river on October 8-9, 1769, finding a large stuffed bird left behind by natives who had fled the area. Father Crespí gave the river one of his usual long religious names, but the simpler descriptive name used by the soldiers is the one that has survived.

Pinto (mottled coloring). Pinto Lake in Watsonville was named for the pioneer Pinto family, rather than being derived from the adjective.

Plaza (central public space). Another Spanish term adopted into the regional English of the western U.S. - cities have featured central open spaces for as long as there have been cities. In Spain and in Spanish America, such a space is called a plaza, located in front of the main cathedral. The word is also used to describe a market or shopping area, and is found in many California shopping center names.

Potrero (pasture). Some of the river-bottom area north of Mission Hill was used as grazing land for mission livestock. A small Mexican-era land grant comprising a portion of the area was Rancho Potrero y Rincon de San Pedro Regalado. Today’s Potrero Street remembers that past.

Pueblo (town). For Americans, the term pueblo often refers to a native people of New Mexico and/or their distinctive style of building. The term had a different and specific legal meaning, however, in colonial New Spain. Pueblo was the official term for a secular town planned and established by government decree. As noted previously, only three planned pueblos were established in Alta California. The Villa de Branciforte was a special type of pueblo intended for settlement by retired soldiers, called invalidos. The retirees received small land grants and farm supplies as part of their pensions, remaining army reservists who could be recalled to active duty if needed.

After Mexican independence, local governments gained more independence from the central government, and pueblos developed organically around the missions (e.g. Santa Cruz), around each Presidio (military base, e.g. Monterey), and around port areas (e.g. Yerba Buena, part of today’s city of San Francisco).

Quintana. Below Mission Hill to the north - in the potrero area - there used to be Quintana Street, named for a Santa Cruz mission priest who was murdered by Indian neophytes in 1812. The City abandoned part of the Quintana Street right-of-way in 1967, and at some later time renamed the remainder (between Potrero and Mora) Amat Street.

Ranchería (village, rural neighborhood). Spanish missionaries and colonists seem to have used this term exclusively to refer to the villages of the indigenous natives.

Rancho (ranch, farm). Another term with a specific meaning in California. Governors had authority to grant tracts of land to favored petitioners. After Mission Santa Cruz was secularized in 1833-34, much more land became available. Seventeen of these rancho grants were handed out in what is now Santa Cruz County - ten of them in 1833-34. Most grants went to invalidos, their families, and other early settlers who had risen to prominence in the community. The grantees became rancheros, the upper crust of Alta California society. None of the original rancho names survive on modern maps in their complete original form, but you can still find them on older USGS topo maps, and in older deed descriptions. Meanwhile, other names have been invented - e.g. Rancho del Mar.

Rancho names (17 ranchos total in Santa Cruz County) Aptos Arroyo de la Laguna Arroyo del Rodeo Bolsa del Pajaro Cañada del Rincon en el Rio de San Lorenzo Carbonera (charcoal-making place) Corralitos (see Corral) Potrero y Rincon de San Pedro Regalado (see Potrero) Refugio (refuge, shelter) Salsipuedes (get out if you can!) San Agustin, Andrés, Vicente (saints Augustine, Andrew, Vincent, respectively) Soquel (later augmented with an additional grant) Tres Ojos de Agua (three springs of water) Agua Puerca y Las Trancas (unclean water and sand bars) Zayante

Rincon (inside corner, nook). Two local rancho names included this term, which was often applied to the land enclosed by a bend in a river. The aforementioned name “Potrero y Rincon…” therefore designated an area of pasture land enclosed on one side by a river bend, and on the other side by a “nook” in the hills. The location of today’s Paradise Park community is enclosed by another sweeping bend in the San Lorenzo River, once part of Rancho Cañada del Rincon en el Rio San Lorenzo. The very literal name translates as “Ranch (in the) Valley of the Bend in the San Lorenzo River”.

Rodeo (cattle roundup). Cattle raising for hides and tallow was the main economic activity on the expansive ranchos of the pre-U.S. Santa Cruz area, as in all of Alta California. Mission economies were somewhat more well-rounded and self-sufficient, but few of the rancheros were much interested in farming, fishing, lumbering, mining, trade or manufacturing. They prized their land and their caballos (horses), and lived mainly on the income from their vacas (cattle).

Salsipuedes. This is my favorite Spanish place name, and translates as “get out if you can”. It’s not an unusual name in California, and has been contracted from the original three-word phrase sal (imperative: “get out!”) si (if) puedes (you can). The most logical theory is that the name was applied to places where early horseback travel was difficult. The steep-banked and heavily vegetated Salsipuedes Creek, prone to sudden winter flooding, fits that description.

Santa Cruz. As noted above, the name means “Holy Cross”, but the original word in the diary of the missionary Juan Crespi (chaplain of the 1769 Portolá expedition) was not Santa, but Santissima (most Holy).

Soquel, another anglicized Spanish phonetic spelling of a native word. Also like Aptos, there’s disagreement over the original meanings, but recent scholarship concludes that Soquel was derived from the name of a local Uypi chief rather than a village or tribal name (see the Randall Milliken article). Soquel remains today as a creek and community name.

Zayante. One more anglicized Spanish phonetic spelling of a native word; probably the name of a ranchería.

Post-mission period (1834-1846)

Alcalde. juez de pais/paz. juzgado.


Campo (camping place or countryside) Corral (a livestock enclosure). The diminutive, plural form is Corralitos. Rodeo (cattle roundup)


Arroyo (creek) Estero (estuary) Lago (lake) Laguna (lagoon, lake) Mar (sea) Ojo (literally = eye, used to denote a spring) Rio (river) Seco (dry)

Landforms and geography

Alta (upper or high) Bolsa (literally = pocket, used especially for an area surrounded by wetlands) Cañada (valley) Cañon (canyon) Costa (coast) same spelling as Italian Escalona (escarpment, line of bluffs). Gary Griggs wrote a concise explanation of the escalona terrain. USGS published a guided tour. Montaña (mountain) Monte (mount, usually modern, as used in a place name like Monte Vista) Norte (north) Rincón (corner, nook, a small remote space, often used for a place enclosed by a bend in a river or a recess in the escalona) Sur (south)

Plant names

Alamo (poplar or cottonwood); Alameda is a grove of these Aliso (alder) Arce (maple) Encinal (wood, esp. oak) Pino (pine). Cabrillo originally named our bay Bahia del Pinos, for the pines he saw covering the Monterey Peninsula.

Animals and birds

Alcatraz (pelican) Ballona (whale) Gato (cat, plural = Los Gatos) Oso (bear) Pajaro (bird) Vaca (cow, root of “vaquero” = cowboy)

Body parts

Boca (mouth)

Word or name parts

de: often denoted the noble origins of a Spaniard, e.g. Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca de Carini y Branciforte, 1st Marqués de Branciforte – Viceroy of New Spain (1794-98) for whom the Villa de Branciforte was named.

-ero: suffix equivalent to English –er; a person engaged in the activity described in the root word. The feminine forms “-era” and “-ería” are mostly used to name a place or thing. Examples: From carbon (coal, charcoal) come Carbonera (charcoal kiln, coal mine), and Carbonero (charcoal maker, coal miner) From pesca (fishing) come Pescaderia (fish market), and Pescadero (fisherman) From rancho (ranch) comes ranchero (rancher). In this case, however, the feminine ranchería has an entirely different meaning: a native village. -ita, -ito: diminutive suffixes meaning “little” Lagunita (little lake)


Bonita (pretty Bueno/buena (good)


Amarillo (yellow) Azul (blue) Blanco\blanca (white) Colorado (reddish) Verde (green)

Proper names

Branciforte Cabrillo Monterey Portola


Alcalde (similar to a “strong” mayor) Juez de pais/paz. A “juez” (judge) of the “pais”(country) had duties mostly related to cattle branding. A “juez de paz” (justice of the peace) dealt with domestic and criminal matter in settlements. Juzgado Pueblo Villa

Multiple meanings

Sal (“salt”, but may also be the imperative form of the verb salir = “to go away”. The name Salsipuedes is a complete sentence, meaning Get out! (Sal) if (si) puedes (you can). Santa (female saint, as in Santa Clara; or “holy” – as in Santa Cruz = Holy Cross)

American-era Spanish: often applied to real estate developments

Buena Vista (good view). Any other multiple-word name including “Vista” is also likely to be modern. (e.g. Vista del Lago). El Camino Real (the Royal Highway). In the early 1900s, several groups and individuals wishing to promote California tourism and auto travel gave the name “El Camino Real” to an approximation of the old route connecting the original twenty-one missions. Mission Santa Cruz did not lie on the main road, so its relationship to El Camino Real remains ambiguous.


Four main ones, in descending order of importance for this study:


  • A famous syntactically-correct example of Spanish naming is wrong for an entirely different reason: El Camino Real (The Royal Highway). The designation was reserved for a main road connecting a central capital city to an important provincial capital. The road from Mexico City to Santa Fe was such a road. There was never any kind of permanent road from Mexico City to California, so what is California’s “El Camino Real”? In the early 1900s, several groups and individuals wishing to promote California tourism and auto travel gave the name “El Camino Real” to an arbitrary approximation of the old route connecting the original twenty-one missions. Pertinent facts were ignored besides the lack of a connection to the capital city, such as the fact that there was never a single road connecting all twenty-one missions. In fact, several missions are not connected by El Camino Real, including Mission Santa Cruz.