California named after Fictional Island

Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo was an author in Spain at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. Highly influenced by the post-Arthurian knight-errantry tales of the Amadis of Gaul, written in the early 14th century by an unknown author, Montalvo collected and reworked these tales into a first printed edition, published in 1508. Taking the story further, Montalvo penned two more volumes in the same vein: the first, a fourth book to the initial three books of the Amadis cycle; the second, a sequel to that volume, titled, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandian), published in 1510.

Conquistador Hernán Cortés was a fan. Influenced by Montalvo’s fiction, Cortés set sights on locating an island Montalvo’s book told was West of the Indies. It was called California and ruled by a powerful pagan woman named Calafia. Montalvo’s novel said California was an island “peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.”

When Baja California was first lighted upon by Cortes’ minions in 1533 (Diego de Becerra and Fortún Ximénez), it was hoped that fiction had come true. They named the “island” California.

California is thought to be the 5th oldest surviving European place-name in the United States, though it was not an official state until September 9, 1850 (the 31st).

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1 thought on “California named after Fictional Island

  1. We should have a kid named Calafia! Nice post

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