Friday, July 6, 2012

On the Meaning of a Name

California Place Names : The origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. By Erwin G. Gudde, revised and expanded by William Bright. Published by the University of California Press, 1998, c1949.

A fortieth anniversary edition of a book is a curiosity, especially if you compare the notion of age with the new book in your hands: this book’s publish date was fourteen years ago! I believe these days if you were looking for the meaning of a place name in California (or any other state for that matter), you would type such a name into Google, and the rest is easy, although maybe not complete. The treasure inside the covers of this book is related to the state’s exotic origins, its multiple cultures and the meanings of place names encountered by residents, tourists and etymologists—the people who study the origin and evolution of words. How could you get all that from one page on the Internet? This book is organized like a dictionary, with place names listed in alphabetical order. So if you open to the first page of the names’ explanations, the second entry is Abalone, an interesting fact in itself. We usually think of the name abalone referring to a kind of sea creature in a shell, eaten by enthusiasts of shellfish. If you live in this state you may or may not know where many places are located and what they are named---who lives near Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, near Rancho Palos Verdes, California would be proud of the history of shellfishing in their area. In this entry for Abalone, we learn that the word originated in the Rumsen (Native American) language, and developed from "awlun" to "abalone" in various groups from Native American to Spanish to English. To get an idea of the changes the state has gone through since 1542, see the tiny pamphlet in the Library titled California Under Twelve Flags by Phil Townsend Hanna and published by the Automobile Club of Southern California in 1969.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See books in collection in our online catalog.

Museum volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page for more information.

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