The Island of California

17th century map of California, from

The Island of California

I can’t believe it took me this long to look up the origin of the name “California”, but I finally did, so I thought I’d share it on here.

Apparently it comes from the story Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) by the 16th century Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. One of the places mentioned in the book is the kingdom of Queen Calafia, the island of California. It is described as such:

Sabed que a la diestra mano de las Indias existe una isla llamada California muy cerca de un costado del Paraíso Terrenal; y estaba poblada por mujeres negras, sin que existiera allí un hombre, pues vivían a la manera de las amazonas. Eran de bellos y robustos cuerpos, fogoso valor y gran fuerza. Su isla era la más fuerte de todo el mundo, con sus escarpados farallones y sus pétreas costas. Sus armas eran todas de oro y del mismo metal eran los arneses de las bestias salvajes que ellas acostumbraban domar para montarlas, porque en toda la isla no había otro metal que el oro.

Translation: Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to a side of the Garden of Eden, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were of robust and beautiful bodies with spirited courage and great strength. The island itself was one of the strongest in the world on account of its steep cliffs and stony shores. Their arms were all of gold and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they tamed to mount, because in all the island there was no other metal than gold.

The island was also said to be full of griffins and other wild creatures. Fascinating!

Ma be we should put a griffin instead of a grizzly on the flag of California, ey?


Published by Johanne Boulat

Johanne Boulat was born in French-speaking Switzerland, where she lives again now, but she grew up under the resplendent California sun. For 21 years she basked in the spirit of the Wilderness, which she discovered on hiking as well as literary paths. She received her Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then has worked as a scientific field aid, a translator, a sales specialist, and a running coach. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She now teaches English and Science at a local elementary school and dedicates her free time to the three “R”s: Running, Reading, and Writing.

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