Mark Liberman’s latest Log post sent me back to my 2008 post about the vexed issue of why Southern Californians use the definite article when referring to freeways (e.g., “the 405″), and the remark there that U.S. 101 used to be known as Ventura Boulevard made me wonder about the name Ventura—I’ve driven through there a million times and never thought to ask why it was called that (ventura is Spanish for ‘fortune, chance, happiness’). So I reached for my trusty California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (one of the best such books ever done, and beautifully printed as well), and discovered that it used to be San Buenaventura; a mission of that name (dedicated to Saint Bonaventure) was founded in 1782, the town that grew up around it was incorporated as the City of San Buenaventura in 1866, and a county was created (from part of Santa Barbara County) in 1872.
The county, however, was given the abbreviated name of Ventura, and the town soon followed suit:
In 1891, on petition of the residents, the Post Office Dept. changed the post office name to Ventura: “Much mail and express matter designed for this office found its way to San Bernardino, and vice versa. Then the name was too long to write and too difficult for strangers to pronounce”… The new name was generally accepted, although the Southern Pacific did not change the name of the station until 1900. In 1905 Z. S. Eldredge wrote the following obituary to the old name in his campaign to restore Spanish names: “And now comes the Post Office Dept., which is the most potent destroyer of all. I have spoken before of the injury done the people of San Buenaventura. They cling to that name and use it among themselves. But they are doomed. Mapmakers, from the Director of the Geological Survey to the publisher of a pocket guide following the lead of the post office, call the place Ventura, and the historic name will be lost (San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 10, 1905).
And now that I’ve written all that, in the course of googling the last quote I discover I have in fact written about this before (though much more briefly), back in 2003. So consider this a blast from the past, and a warning as to what will become of your memory as you pass gracefully through your fifties.