Pasadena.

My wife asked me what the name “Pasadena” meant, so of course I looked it up in Gudde’s California Place Names (a wonderful book — see this 2004 post), and the etymology was so interesting I thought I’d pass it along here:

Pasadena (pas ə dē’ nə) [Los Angeles Co.]. The community was founded in 1874 and called Indiana Colony because the original promoters came from Indiana. When the post office was established in 1875, another name had to be chosen, and rarely have pioneer settlers gone to more trouble to select a name for their town than the good people of Indiana Colony. Hiram Reid’s account of the naming (pp. 338 ff.) sounds more convincing than various other stories: Judge B. S. Eaton, in discussing with another stockholder, Calvin Fletcher, the possibility of finding a suitable Spanish name for the proposed post office, recalled a conversation he had had with Manuel Garfias, the patentee of Rancho San Pascual, on part of which the town was situated. When asked why he had chosen so impractical a place for his house, Garfias replied, “Porque es la llave del Rancho.” Fletcher was disappointed, because “yavvey,” the only word he caught, would never do for a place name. Judge Eaton then translated Garfias’s reply as ‘key of the rancho.’ This was at least a cue to a suitable name. Dr. T. B. Elliott, the president of the Indiana Colony, then took up the idea. He wrote to a friend who was a missionary among the Chippewa Indians in the Mississippi Valley for an Indian version of ‘Key of the Ranch,’ or ‘Entrance to the Upper Part of the Valley’, and received in due course these suggestions: Weoquân Pâ sâ de ná ‘Crown of the Valley’; Gish kâ de ná Pâ sâ de ná ‘Peak of the Valley’; Tape Dâegun Pâ sâ de ná ‘Key of the Valley’; Pe quâ de na Pâ sâ de ná ‘Hill of the Valley’. Since Dr. Elliott could not very well propose the name Tapedaegunpasadena or Weoquanpasadena, he quietly dropped the specific part and submitted to the townspeople the pleasing and euphonious name Pasadena. The interpretation that Pasadena alone means ‘crown of the valley’ has persisted until the present day. As for the original Chippewa word, it can be identified with passadina ‘there is a valley’ (Frederick Baraga, Dictionary of the Otchipwe language [Montreal, 1878]).

The Pasadena in Texas is named after the one in California. Don’t ask me why Dr. Elliott wrote to a missionary in the Mississippi Valley for a suitable name for a place in California, because I have no answer for you.

Comments

  1. Lucy Kemnitzer says:

    Possibly he wrote to that missionary because he knew him & he had never bothered to get to know anyone who knew any California Indians?

    The “Noble Savage” myth was never applied to California natives, who were thought of and treated with utmost disrespect (to be euphemistic).

  2. This came up recently, in the Wyoming thread.

  3. So it did, and Piotr Gąsiorowski had a great Ojibwe dictionary link.

  4. Dan Milton says:

    Could someone comment on “tape daegun”? I don’t think Ojibwe wigwams had locks that required keys.

  5. I wonder if he thought the Indian languages had some degree of relationship? Or maybe it was just a maggot.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    some degree of relationship

    More likely he thought there was just one Indian language.

  7. @Dan Milton, looking through an Ojibwe resource online, I wonder if “dibendaagwad” (it is controlled/owned) might be related.

    I also note that -gan is a nominalizer.

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    Is it perhaps not a coincidence that although the original quest for a Spanish name was sidestepped via Ojibwe the result sounds pretty Spanish-like from an AmEng POV (in terms of phonology/phonotactics, even if it would sound meaningless to an actual Hispanophone)? Indeed, the -dena part got combined with an echt-Spanish morpheme to name neighboring Altadena. Separately, given that lots of other SoCal communities being built up by Anglo incomers were happy to stick to existing Spanish toponyms, it’s not clear to me why San Pascual was thought inadequate, especially when the promoters were obviously in the market for something that sounded vaguely exotic as opposed to affirmatively transplanted-Anglo. Unless they were only buying part of the land of the old rancho and the owner of the remainder didn’t want to part with the name?

  9. Separately, given that lots of other SoCal communities being built up by Anglo incomers were happy to stick to existing Spanish toponyms, it’s not clear to me why San Pascual was thought inadequate

    Yes, I wondered that too.

  10. It might imply a territorial claim by the town over the rancho, or (shudder!) vice versa.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    Apparently the rancho’s name is used these days (with alternative spelling) by at least the census authorities for a teensy bit of unincorporated LA county not within either Pasadena or San Marino (home of the lovely Huntington Library even if it unfortunately lacks the interesting governmental structure of the old-world microstate of the same name). But if you live there the post office wants you to use a Pasadena mailing address. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pasqual,_Los_Angeles_County,_California

  12. …why San Pascual was thought inadequate, especially when the promoters were obviously in the market for something that sounded vaguely exotic as opposed to affirmatively transplanted-Anglo.

    At incorporation, the place was called Indiana Colony. The Post Ofiice didn’t like it, and the town took instead a vote on the names Indianola, Granada and Pasadena, and the last one won (per WP).

    I heard once the story of the naming of the town of Lima, Ohio: when it was time to pick a name for the town, ten names were put up for a vote, all lofty country capitals from around the world. Lima won handily, because it was a name familiar to everyone from sacks of imported guano.

  13. Lima won handily, because it was a name familiar to everyone from sacks of imported guano.
    Is the town’s motto “We are full of it”?

  14. Here is a facsimile of the original notes on the Ojibwe names.

  15. Well found!

  16. Further investigation suggests that the Lima story is probably not true. The town was named in 1831. The Peruvian guano boom didn’t start until 1845. A similar but more plausible story has the town choosing Lima because of Peruvian chinchona bark: Lima was built by swampland (robbed from the Shawnees) and the area suffered from malaria.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    Not named for lima beans? (Which may themselves have been named for the capital of Peru, but that wasn’t obvious to me as a child circa 1970 and i’m not sure it would have been obvious to Ohioans circa 1830.) These days, Lima, Peru is usually pronounced in AmEng with the FLEECE vowel while both Lima, Ohio and lima beans are pronounced with the PRICE vowel, but I suppose things may have been different back then and the Ohio pronunciation continues an older pronunciation of the Peruvian toponym.

  18. Quoth WP: “During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, lima beans were exported to the rest of the Americas and Europe, and since the boxes of such goods had their place of origin labeled ‘Lima, Peru’, the beans got named as such.” So city first, beans afterwards.

    In the NATO/ICAO phonetic alphabet, Lima stands for the letter L, and is pronounced with the FLEECE vowel. Bizarrely, G Golf is pronounced as if gulf, and U Uniform has FLEECE in the second syllable.

    The confidentiality status of this alphabet is likewise bizarre. Quoth WP once more, “The name NATO phonetic alphabet became widespread because the signals used to facilitate the naval communications and tactics of NATO have become global. However, ATP-1 [the document defining it] is marked NATO Confidential (or the lower NATO Restricted) so it is not available publicly. Nevertheless, a NATO unclassified version of the document is provided to foreign, even hostile, militaries, even though they are not allowed to make it available publicly. The spelling alphabet is now also defined in other unclassified international military documents.” The Internet treats secrecy, like censorship and copyright, as network damage and routes around it.

    Finally, the footnote on p. 349 of the History of Pasadena confirms that tape-da-egun does mean ‘key’ in the sense of the metal object (with no metaphorical implications); the Ojibwe must have long since become familiar with keys and locks.

  19. Finally, the footnote on p. 349 of the History of Pasadena confirms that tape-da-egun does mean ‘key’ in the sense of the metal object

    Not to diss the good folks who created the History of Pasadena, but I think I’d want some more specialized backup for such an assertion.

  20. The manuscript shows Tapɛ kâɛgun as best as I can read it. In the Ojibwe dictionary the word for ‘key’ is aabaabika’igan , from aab- ‘undo’ + -aabik- ‘mineral (rock or metal), inorganic solid’ + -a’ ‘act on it using a tool or medium’ + -gan ‘nominalizer’; in plain English, ‘an undoing metal’. I can’t explain the initial “T” in the ms. instead of the aab- in the dictionary.

  21. I’d guess it was a misheard (and unwritten) glottal stop.

  22. How would a glottal stop replace aab-? There would have to be some other preverb there to explain what the key does. Maybe the T is not a T? There’s not enough of the handwriting there.

  23. Well, keys (especially older types) lock as well as unlocking.

  24. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Does “rancho” have some special meaning in this context? I wonder that Judge Eaton came up with “key of the rancho” rather than simply “… of the ranch”.

  25. As an Algonquianist I am strictly an amateur, but I wonder whether the initial T of “Tapɛ kâɛgun” might not derive from the linking /d/ which unites any Ojibwe possessor prefix (Including third person /o/) and any vowel initial noun, i.e. “His/her key” in Ojibwe is “odaabaabika’igan” (Some Ojibwe nouns also take a suffix -(i)m when they are possessed, I have no idea whether this is true or not of the word for “key”: if it is this weakens my hypothesis, of course). The missing /o/ prefix is another blow against this hypothesis; on the other hand the Chippewa dialect of Ojibwe has as its neighbors varieties such as Odawa, where apocope of short vowels is rampant, so the assumption that the /o/ was not perceived because it was too weakly articulated is not too blatantly ad hoc.

    Hmm. The fact that the third syllable of the Ojibwe word (“aabaaBIka’igan”) seems to be missing in “(T)apɛ kâɛgun” might be explained in the same way: if the short /i/ was weak enough the entire syllable might have been apocopated/not perceived.

    Would any real Algonquianist hatter out there care to offer their two cents?

  26. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Perhaps the missionary correspondent here mentally segmented odaabaabika’igan into two words: o daabaabika’igan, equivalent to the two words of “his key”, and then he dropped the pronoun o as irrelevant in this case.

    I was thinking of the missing syllable as being the second one of aabaabika’igan, which would make it deletion of a duplicated sequence, i.e. aabaab > aab. Maybe the missionary thought this simplification was justified in Ojibwe on some spurious grounds, or maybe he just thought it would be more euphonious (the phrases were already too long to start with), or maybe he was just confused. Of course, if we’re willing to countenance plain old error as an explanation, that could explain anything.

  27. I grew up hearing the term “Iowan Spanish” applied to a lot of southern California place names–a term that probably came from having a southern California (Anglo) family tree that went back to the 1850’s, and was mildly scornful of newcomers who used Spanish names in non-Spanish ways for the euphony. The standard joke was that the founders of a hospital in Santa Barbara thought it would be appropriate to name it for the street it was on, until someone explained what Salsipuedes actually meant. (I’ll let someone else supply this, and probably tell me the joke was wrong).

  28. There’s also a Salsipuedes Creek near Santa Cruz.

    There’s a town of Salsipuedes in Cŕdoba in Argentina, too. Spanish Wikipedia supplies a fanciful tale of its origin.

  29. “Córdoba”.

    Colombia has a Salsipuedes, and Uruguay has two creeks of that name. In Chile, Salsipuedes is some 40 km from Peor Es Nada.

  30. There was a Salsipuedes in 19th-century Panama too, now under Gatun Lake, iirc.

  31. For the non-Spanish-speakers, Salsipuedes means ‘get out if you can.’

  32. And “Peor Es Nada” means ‘better than nothing’, lit. ‘worse is nothing’.

    I seem to remember that for the Santa Cruz creek, it’s a warning that a river, however inviting at its mouth, gets shallow or narrow further on, and a watercraft is liable to get stuck in it. I wonder if it was a common idiom for naming such rivers, responsible for most of the rivers and the towns named after them.

    My first Google search for salsipuedes landed on a trendy “Mexican-American bistro” in Oakland, CA, recently closed. With a name like this, they earn the snarks, just like the Santa Barbara hospital.

  33. And “Peor Es Nada” means ‘better than nothing’, lit. ‘worse is nothing’.

    Wouldn’t it mean rather ‘nothing could be worse’? “Better than nothing” seems a touch too optimistic.

  34. That’s what I read. I’ve never actually heard it used. Paging native Spanish speakers…

  35. I just read that it also works as a jokey way to refer to one’s spouse/bfgf: “¿Y cómo está tu Peor Es Nada?”

  36. And “Peor Es Nada” means ‘better than nothing’, lit. ‘worse is nothing’.

    Wouldn’t it mean rather ‘nothing could be worse’? “Better than nothing” seems a touch too optimistic.

    ‘Nothing could be worse’ would be nada es peor. Y is right; peor es nada is probably best paraphrased as ‘at least it’s something’ (or ‘half a loaf’, to use a slightly antiquated idiom).

  37. Thanks!

  38. …and now that I check, it’s actually in my Harper Collins dictionary, defined as “it’s better than nothing.”

  39. For the non-Spanish-speakers, Salsipuedes means ‘get out if you can.’

    Or ‘Salt, yes you can.’

  40. I see the interpretation of “peor es nada” as a quantification problem.

    If I understand Spanish grammar correctly, the “there is nothing which is worse” interpretation, i.e. ∄x.worse(x), requires a “no” since “nada” comes after the verb (e.g. it’s “no pasa nada”, not “pasa nada”). So it would have to be “no es peor nada” or “peor no es nada”, although Google suggests people might not actually say this.

    Since the “no” is lacking, the only interpretation of “nada” is “there not being anything”, or worse(0), to play a bit loose with the formalization.

  41. Or ‘Salt, yes you can.’

    Maybe the owners of the Oakland bistro thought it actually meant that.

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