California, an imaginary place

I saw this excerpt on Twitter a while back. It appears to be true, and I thought it apropos to share in light of recent thinking about place names.

California was named after the Isle of California, an imaginary place that appears in a sixteenth-century Spanish fantasy novel, The Adventures of Esplandián. In the book, an Amazonian-style warrior queen named Calafia rules over a nation of independent, griffin-riding black women. There were no men on the island at all, and no metal besides gold, which the fierce women fastened into harnesses for their mythical beasts. California is just a made-up word, like Rivendell, Narnia or Oz. However the inspiration for both it and the name of its ruler likely came from the Arabic word caliph, as in caliphate, the office held by the spiritual successors of the prophet Mohammad. The Isle of California is a treacherous place for the male protagonists of the story, and so the decision of the Spanish conquistadors to give the region that name, which came after Cortez suffered a particularly humbling defeat there, was a little like saying, This place didn’t really work out so well for us. Perhaps it is a little like naming a place Skull Island or Jurassic Park.

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