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What’s in a Town’s Name?
updated: Dec 05, 2009, 9:00 AM
By David Powdrell
Am I the only one who thinks that Oxnard should consider changing its name? Even Henry T. Oxnard, the town founder, thought the name should be something different. He intended to name the city after the Greek word for "sugar", which is záchari, according to my Google translator. But state bureaucracy got in the way and he settled for his family name, just to finalize the necessary paperwork. Maybe the town should consider honoring Henry's original desire and opt for, "Zachari Beach". Sounds pretty cool to me.
And Lompoc. What's the deal with that name? Well, it turns out there's a better explanation with Lompoc. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Chumash tribe inhabited the area. The name of the city is derived from a Chumash word, "Lum Poc", that means "little lake" or "lagoon." The Spanish called it "lumpoco". We gringos tweaked it further to Lompoc.
A recent poll among residents of Lompoc voted 77% to leave the name alone, 20% thought the suggested alternative, "La Purisima" was better, and the remainder didn't give a darn.
I like the name Lompoc significantly better now that I know of its Chumash translation.
My little town of Carpinteria has a pretty fun history to its name. Again, the Chumash were major players here. Originally, the Carpinteria Valley was referred to as "Mishopshno", which meant, "Correspondence", as Carpinteria was, for centuries, a major center of trade.
In 1769, Spanish explorers, led by Gaspar de Portola, came upon a group of Chumash splitting redwood logs, hand-hewing planks, and constructing large seagoing canoes they called tomols. Although Portola christened the town, "San Roque", commemorating a small town in Spain, the soldiers independently dubbed it, "La Carpinteria", meaning "Carpenters Shop".
The Chumash were industrious hunters and gatherers. Most of the Chumash tomols were built in Carpinteria with the aid of the naturally seeping tar at the waters edge. The tar was used to seal the canoes.
Attached are a few photos of the natural tar seepage I took last week. Also attached are some interesting links, if you'd like to know more about Chumash history.
Of particular interest, you should learn about John Peabody Harrington, the noted Stanford anthropologist who, in 1913, built a tomol with Fernando Librado, a Chumash elder. Harrington took copious notes and made detailed drawings as he helped construct the tomol that now sits in at the Smithsonian Institute.
link to story
Also of note, Brian Fagan wrote an impressive essay entitled, "The House of the Sea: An Essay on the antiquity of Planked Canoes in Southern California".
Most importantly, think Zachari Beach the next time you pass Oxnard. See how it feels as you drive by.
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