The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1976, Volume 22, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor


David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

San Diego County Place-Names: They Had To Call It Something. By Lou Stein. San Diego: Tofua Press, 1975. Bibliography. Pronunciation Guide. Maps. 163 pages. $9.95. Softbound, $4.95.

Reviewed by Neil Morgan, columnist, The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune, author of Westward Tilt, The California Syndrome, The Pacific States, and San Diego: The Unconventional City.

Erwin G. Gudde’s book, California Place Names, must be one of every well-read Californian’s favorite books. As Californians came from all over America and the world, they brought the ludicrous and sublime in place names and stamped them forever on California soil. Cheek by jowl in the Mother Lode are settlements bearing the names of the old countries and the American frontier. To understand California place names is to begin to understand California, and few of us have been able to do much more than begin.

But one looks often in vain in Gudde’s volume for the clue to San Diego place names. One will look in vain sometimes in Lou Stein’s fine little volume just published, but it is a big step forward into an area still too lightly explored. San Diego place names simply have not yielded as rich a woof to researchers as those of northern California. Perhaps it is because the rampant enthusiasms and recklessness of the Forty-Niners yielded the nomenclature of the north, and that of the South has been a less fevered evolution from that of Indian to real estate huckster.

But, among the more than fifty Paradises that Gudde reports in California, Stein has found one in San Diego. It is Paradise Mountain in Rincon Canyon. Although the mountain yielded more cool breezes than gold, it was said by a sourdough to be “the beginning of Paradise.”

Stein’s research has done nothing to upset the traditional explanation of the naming of San Diego. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (Stein has been lazy in overlooking his accent marks, a nearly fatal flaw in a volume heavy with Spanish) obeyed his instructions from the King of Spain in naming the harbor San Miguel in honor of the feast day of that saint on September 28, 1542. But when Sebastián Vizcaíno followed, on November 10, 1602, it was the feast day of San Diego de Alcalá de Henares. History happily records no further discoveries of our city on other feast days; the name provided by Vizcaíno has stuck.

Stein pays homage to the earlier place name studies of Winifred and John Davidson and Lena B. Hunzicker. He cites about 800 place names, most of them of current importance or in current use. His writing is straightforward, lucid, and usually humorless. Perhaps that is as it should be, but some rare opportunities are thus overlooked. No matter. This volume goes into the bookshelf at my elbow.