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Why towns in Northern California have unique names | Why Guy

Let's take a history lesson as we travel through Northern California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Recently, the Why Guy has recently been asked about town names. Why is one town named a certain name and how did cities get their names? 

Well, to JJ and Reye, and the many others who have the same question when passing an oddly-named city, let's take a history lesson as we travel through Northern California.

  • Let's start with Vacaville which in Spanish means "cow town." But Vacaville was actually named in 1851 for landowner Juan Manuel Vaca, who also had a buddy down the road at the time named General Vallejo, who took sideburns to the next level. General's Vallejo's wife had a town named for her too, Benicia, although some locals call it "Benisha." 
  • Close by we have Fairfield, named in 1856 after Fairfield, Connecticut.
  • And the city of Dixon is misspelled. It’s supposed to be "Dickson" after the rancher who owned the massive amount of land there. The railroad somehow spelled it wrong and the town kept it that way.
  • Here's one many people may not know. Stockton. Proudly named after Navy Commodore Robert F Stockton, who was born, raised and died in New Jersey.
  • Let's go to Placerville, which was named for the Placer gold that was abundant for miners in 1849. Placerville, of course, is not in Placer County, which trips up folks new to the area.
  • Auburn was once the state capitol of California and is named for Auburn, New York, where setters came from in 1849.
  • Did you know there's a nearby Atlanta, California? It's in San Joaquin County near French Camp Road and named in 1866 by Lee Wilson, who came from Atlanta Georgia.
  • Also an oddity is Dog Town in Mono County, named in 1857 by miners who felt the conditions were miserable. It's now a ghost town off Highway 395.
  • Another most people don't know is the name Lake Tahoe is relatively new. It was officially Lake Bigler, named after the third governor of the Golden State, John Bigler, until 1945.

Some city names have obvious origins, like Rocklin, which came from the 1860's granite quarries that were busily being mined by settlers.  

And just to reiterate a Why Guy pet peeve, the high country is spelled and pronounced "Sierra." I recently posted that on my Facebook page and nearly started a brawl with people who insist saying "Sierras" is ok. It's not! 

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Why are so many Northern California cities oddly named? | Why Guy