In 1534, when Hernán Cortés’ men first saw what would later be named Baja California, they thought they’d found an island. They, or later Cortés himself in 1535, imagined it could be the fabled land of Black Queen Calafia and her Amazon warriors. These were well-known characters from the popular romance novel, The Adventures of Esplandián (Las sergas de Esplandián, c.1500) by Garcia Rodríguez de Montalvo. The book boasts battles, romance, adventure and strong women. The name Calafia, sometimes written as Califia, is thought to originate from the Arabic word khalifa (califa in Spanish), meaning ruler or religious leader. In honor of Queen Calafia, the explorers named the land California, as her island realm was called.
Many early maps show California as an island! Cartographers tended to refer to previous maps to develop their drawings, and continued the error shown below for centuries. The mistake was so widespread that 200 years later in 1747, King Ferdinand VI formally decreed that California was not an island. A royal stamp of the foot was not enough to correct the misperceptions. Collector Glen McLaughlin found stacks of evidence it continued and he’s donated maps to Stanford chronicling this folly well into the 1800s.
I think it is great to discover California was named for the strong, beautiful, regal Calafia.
Did you know about the origins of the name California? Would you say it’s a figurative island?
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca