What’s in a name, anyway?

In Yosemite, the company that ran the concessions lost its contract – but kept the rights to the names of some of the park’s landmarks, even though those places were named long before the concessionaire ever came on the scene.  It was a legal decision that stung and the Park Service is fighting to get it reversed.   And on the state level, steps are now being taken keep the same thing from happening to our state parks.

An Assembly bill is in the works to prohibit a contractor from stealing the identity of a California landmark.  It’s a great idea and a very needed one.

More than just about anywhere else, California has a unique collection of place names.  The 49ers that stormed the state and settled much of it during the gold rush had a wicked sense of humor.

Take Manteca, for example.  That’s a nice sounding word.  But it’s Spanish for lard.  Who wants to live in a town named Lard?  And there’s a town out on the Mojave desert that began life as Rattlesnake Gulch.

The names of our places reflect the personalities of the people who braved the wilderness in search of fame and fortune.  They are mementos of the past; names like Rough and Ready, Chinese Camp, Last Chance, Dogtown, and Skidoo. There’s Weed, Badwater, Cool, and Confidence;  and Likely – so named because folks agreed they weren’t likely to agree on any other name.  It took a real sense of humor to come up with some of those those names.

But even more humorous is the habit of naming a town after a river that doesn’t go through it.  Our forefathers did that; heaven knows why.  The Fresno River goes through Madera, not Fresno.  The San Joaquin river goes through Fresno, but not San Joaquin.  What town does the Madera River go through – Chowchilla?

Whatever the source, these names are part of our history, our heritage in the Golden State; they do deserve protection.  We don’t want them stolen by some two-bit opportunist.

Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.

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