Monday, September 25, 2006

"San Diego Place Names" Talk at CVGS

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society program today was excellent - the speaker was Leland Fetzer, a retired SDSU university professor who has written several books about the San Diego area, including his latest - San Diego County Place Names A to Z (published by Sun Belt Publications, 2005). His talk was titled "Some Crazyt San Diego Place Names - And Where They Came From."

Leland is an engaging speaker - no notes, no overheads, no handouts - just a strong voice, a good sense of humor and a head full of knowledge about the special place I have lived all my life.

He gave us a quiz at the start of his talk - 10 questions on place names we should know the answer to - very few people got many of them right. For example, Tijuana = Aunt Jane (someone's relative or a whorehouse madam)? La Jolla = The Jewel (all the publicity says this? El Monte = The Mountain (sounds logical)? etc. All wrong...and he told us the right answers.

Leland described the derivation of the names of San Diego County places in three time frames - the names given by the Indians (often modified by the Spanish), the Spanish/Mexican names, and the American names. He gave examples of each, and corrected many false impressions. Why are Olivenhain, Blossom Valley and Nestor and other places named the way they are?

His book includes the names given to bays, rivers, mountains and settlements by the explorers (they usually used the Feast Day of the day after the sighting, so, San Diego was named for St. Diego de Alcala because Vizcaino sighted it on a certain day in 1607), the names given to the Spanish land grants, the names given by the Americans (after individuals, places they came from, names made up by someone), the names given by developers, and all of the San Diego city neighborhoods.

At the end of the talk, he opened it up for questions and fielded at least 20 requests for information about place names. The group really enjoyed the talk.

While this was not exactly genealogy, it does provide context for local San Diego history and genealogy research. Most of our members are longtime residents of San Diego, and so the topic had broad general interest. Not every society meeting has to be about genealogy research - having history or geography topics may attract people who might become interested in genealogy.

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