How 6 SoCal Places Got Their Really Weird Names
There are all sorts of unusual places names in this part of the country we call "The Southland." We have names of historic English derivation, not so unlike what you'd find back in the civilized East (Whittier, Torrance, Hawthorne, Glendale). We have place names of Spanish derivation (Tujunga, Reseda, Calabasas, San Gabriel, Palos Verdes), which make good sense given the geography and history of the region. We even have the odd Dutch name (Van Nuys).
Handsome, yes. But would you really want to name your neighborhood after this (fictional) guy?
But a handful of L.A.-area place names are kooky, bizarre and undignified enough to warrant serious mention -- and a little research as to how just how they got that way.
Yes, your first thought is the correct thought: This middle class-to-upscale west San Fernando Valley community is named after the fictional character Tarzan. Unlike towns named after esteemed colonial figures, turn-of-the-century industrialists or U.S. military heroes, this leafy L.A. neighborhood owes its moniker to a ripped, long-haired, nearly naked man-beast, an icon of pop culture that made other males jealous and females swoon -- hey, wait, we're lucky we don't have a Fabioville!
The great author Edgar Rice Burroughs bought a ranch around 1915 in what was then a sparsely populated area of L.A. on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains. At the time, neither California nor the federal government had any laws against egregiously shitty taste nor excessive egotism in the naming of things, so he slapped an 'a' onto his literary creation, and several years later, in 1927, the area's residents voted to adopt it officially as their address. Burroughs was a great writer and his Tarzan series (along with the rest of his insanely prolific body of work, including the John Carter/Mars books) are great fun. But a writer naming a neighborhood after one of his protagonists could have been a dangerous precedent. Care to live in Katnisstown? How about Hobbita, or even Harrypotterville?
The name Diamond Bar could cause a lot of dissonance and confusion in the linguistic-associative part of your brain. On the one hand, when you hear "Diamond," you think opulence - a pile of glittering jewels. On the other hand, hearing the word "Bar" brings to mind a candy bar, so overpoweringly primal is the sensation of a dense, chocolatey snack. Put the two words together and you can't help but think of a chocolate bar encrusted with diamonds: a valuable yet ultimately useless concoction, tempting yet sure to cause fatal intestinal injuries.
In fact, Diamond Bar is a wealthy place, populated by a lot of the Inland Empire's upper crust, who undoubtedly do possess bowls full of diamonds, but probably don't eat them embedded in novelty confections. The absurd name originated after area rancher Frederick E Lewis established his "diamond over a bar" branding iron in 1918, leading to years of huge-scale cattle ranching in the area. Yet it took until 1989 for this handsome hilltop suburb, located by the 60 Fwy / 57 Fwy intersection and near the L.A.-Orange-San Bernardino tri-county line, to become officially incorporated as a city. While the name has an attractively clean ring to it, to the non-Southern California ear, it still sounds like a roadhouse, an accessory worn by a gangsta rapper, or two-thirds of the result of a slot machine spin.
Turn the page for a few more weird place names, including Panorama City.