Spanish names in the US

If you’ve thought that some place names in California sound a little “odd”, you’re right.

Santa Monica

If you’ve thought that some place names in California sound a little “odd”, you’re right. The names of large, famous cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, or Sacramento aren’t English; they’re of Spanish origin!

Many people know that the eastern U.S. was settled mostly by British colonists, but how the western U.S. was settled isn’t that well known. Like in all cases in the U.S., the first to live there were the Native Americans. Most of the western and southwestern U.S. was then settled by the Spanish in the 16th century and later by Mexico at beginning of the 19th century when it declared independence from Spain. The Spanish were mainly interested in trade routes and later began to colonize the lands and establish missions (which gave the American southwest its unique architecture).

For years, American settlers had been steadily spreading across the west and putting down roots in already established Spanish cities, forts, and towns. Slowly but surely, Americans began to talk of breaking away from Mexico, which finally led to the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century. The United States won that war and one by one, the previously Mexican territories became American states. The place names remained, reminding everyone of the Hispanic roots of those lands.

You can see this outside California as well: Arizona (e.g. Tucson, Sierra Vista, Agua Fria), New Mexico (e.g. Santa Fe, Albuquerque), Texas (e.g. El Paso, San Antonio, Amarillo). The southwest U.S. is more diverse than you think!



  • origin– a place, group, or social situation that something or someone comes from
  • to settle– to move to a place and make it your home
  • Native American– a member of any of the first groups of people living in North and South America
  • to declare independence– to officially decide to free one’s self from the control of another nation
  • to colonize– to take control of an area and send people to live there
  • mission– 1) a group of people sent to a country to do religious work, 2) a place or building where such religious work is done
  • to put down roots– to settle and live in one place and become a part of the community
  • to establish– to begin or create something that is meant to last a long time
  • to break away from– to get away from someone or something usually through the use of force
  • Hispanic– originating from an area where Spanish is spoken, especially from Latin America

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