Newsletter: Who claims a name?

Baja California Sur
A horse eats wild brush off the roadside near the surf beach of Cerritos in Baja California Sur.
(Meghan Dhaliwal / For The Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Feb. 12, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

What’s in a name? And who gets to call their native state just California, no prefix or suffix? Well, it’s up for debate.

My colleague, Mexico City-based foreign correspondent Kate Linthicum, has a new story about a journalist on an unlikely crusade. He wants his home state of Baja California Sur to lop off the Baja, lose the Sur and return to its original name: simply “California,” with no qualifiers.

The exact origin of the name California is long disputed. As Linthicum writes, academic consensus pins the source of our state’s name to a fantastical island in a largely forgotten 16th century Castilian romance novel; another theory posits that the name was derived from the Latin term for hot oven. (The fictional island is described as being “very near to the Terrestrial Paradise” in the book, and the Latin phrase in question is Calida Fornax.)

But one thing is clear: The Mexican state was California before the American state was California.

The entire history of what was called what and when is interesting, and you should read all of it in Linthicum’s story. But the very short, oversimplified version is that Spanish conquistadors with a taste for then-contemporary fiction probably first used the name for the peninsula around 1535, a few decades after the book was published. The whole region was then referred to as California for a long while, before the northern part became Alta California and the southern peninsula Baja California. And then later, just California above the border and Baja California and Baja California Sur below the border.


For Cuauhtemoc Morgan Hernandez, the Mexican journalist behind the longshot campaign, it feels like a historic injustice that the name of California alone is now claimed by the 31st U.S. state.

“It is by no means a mass movement, but Morgan’s idea is gaining traction. That is because the battle, it turns out, is about much more than just a name,” Linthicum writes.

[Read the story: “Think you know where California is? Think again, says a Mexican activist” in the Los Angeles Times]

“It’s a fight to recuperate our identity,” Morgan told her. “If we lose the name California, we lose our history.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Voters are about to get their first peek at the future of balloting in Los Angeles County, where officials have spent years building a new voting system. As next month’s presidential primary election approaches, officials are putting the finishing touches on a $300-million overhaul of a system that hasn’t had major upgrades in decades. Scrutiny and expectations will be high after the botched vote counting in the Iowa caucuses. Los Angeles Times



Metro has secured $1.3 billion to finish the Purple Line subway to West L.A. Most of the nine-mile Purple Line will run beneath Wilshire Boulevard, which is the busiest transit corridor in L.A. County and has one of the highest concentrations of jobs and housing in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

Korean liquor store. Black neighborhood. A quarter-century after the riots, misgivings still run deep. Los Angeles Times

Netflix is eyeing a Nipsey Hussle documentary from Ava DuVernay. The Grammy-winning rapper and community activist was fatally shot in March 2019. Los Angeles Times

This 26-year-old became a small-town California mayor. Then a jet dumped fuel on her southeast L.A. city, seven days after she took office. Los Angeles Times

The Anaheim Ducks’ game was postponed after a player from the opposing team collapsed. St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench early in the game and was taken to a hospital. Los Angeles Times

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Customs chief says his agents erred in detaining Iranian Americans at U.S.-Canada border. It was a rare admission of misconduct from the Customs and Border Protection agency’s top official. Los Angeles Times


Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, with a small lead over Pete Buttigieg and a surging Amy Klobuchar in third place. Los Angeles Times

Plus, five ways California Democrats will be affected by the New Hampshire primary, despite being 3,000 miles away. San Francisco Chronicle

Andrew Yang is dropping out of the presidential race. The entrepreneur’s quixotic campaign revolved around giving every adult U.S. citizen $1,000 per month. Los Angeles Times

A former PG&E lawyer was named the new regional EPA chief in California. “The appointment continues a trend of the Trump administration filling the government’s environmental jobs with people who have ties to the power sector, fossil fuels, agribusiness and other industries subject to federal regulations.” Los Angeles Times


An L.A. Black Lives Matter leader is suing the city and former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, alleging wrongful arrest. Los Angeles Times



Evacuees celebrated as their coronavirus quarantine at a military base in Riverside County ended. After a series of final screenings, all 195 Americans were cleared to leave the base where they had been confined the last 14 days. Los Angeles Times


Xavier Montes, maestro of Latino culture in Ventura County, has died at 67. He was the founder of the De Colores Art Show, an annual showcase of music, dance and art held in his hometown of Santa Paula. Los Angeles Times

Hundreds of Berkeley High students walked out of class, protesting sexual assault issues on campus. “Students of all ages implored their classmates to support survivors and cursed out their administrators for not doing enough to protect them.” Berkeleyside

Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar acceptance speech called out the dairy industry, rankling many Central Valley agriculturists. Tulare County is the No. 1 dairy county in the United States. Visalia Times-Delta

Disneyland is raising ticket prices, breaking the $200-a-day mark. This comes months after Disneyland opened the biggest expansion in its history. Los Angeles Times


A Northern California former nudist colony compound can be yours for a cool $11 million. “It’s very private,” according to the listing agent. SFGate


Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 65. San Francisco: sunny, 64. San Jose: sunny, 70. Sacramento: sunny, 68. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell:

My great-grandmother Helen Gish Franklin had a steamer trunk in her dining room in South Los Angeles my entire life. I often asked to see what was inside and was told, “just old pictures ... nothing of interest to you.” When my great-aunt passed, the steamer truck came home with me and for the first time, I had the opportunity to see family photos dating back to the late 1800s. They included stills of my great-grandmother’s brother, Uncle Harry, who as a Pullman porter came west from Kansas and fell in love with the Golden Gate Bridge. He returned home and told his two sisters, “We’re moving to California!” I’m proud of the fact that Central Avenue in Los Angeles welcomed him, where he purchased a home, a barbershop and established the roots that I sprang from. Charcoal and pastel portraits of Uncle Harry, Aunt Frances and Grandma Helen hang in my office, in the state Capitol of their adopted state. Thanks to the love of a beautiful bridge, a golden state and Central Avenue — a cultural mecca. I AM South L.A.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.