What’s in a name….

Temecula, the only City in California to retain its aboriginal name


For just about every one of us, there is a story behind how we got our names.  Some people’s first names commemorate a parent’s favorite friend or relative.  Others are named for their favorite movie star, a song, or a character in a book.  Still others are named for a place that holds a special memory for our parents.   Our last names have significance, too – they can refer to the place of origin or profession of our ancestors.  The City of Temecula is no different. Temecula also has a story to tell of how she got her name….

Temecula, established in 1859 with the opening of the 7th Post Office in California, gets its name from Colorado Shoshone Indians who were the first to inhabit the valley.  They called their village “Temeku” from the Luiseño word “Temecunga” – “teme” meaning “sun,” and “nga” meaning “place of.”  The first Europeans to visit included Spanish missionary Father Juan Norberto de Santiago, who in 1797 was searching for a new mission site.  They interpreted the name of the village as “Temecula.” 

Santiago’s expedition led to the establishment of Mission San Luis Rey and the surrounding tribes became known collectively as “Luiseño” Indians.  Mexican independence in 1821 ushered in the Rancho era, with the valley then comprising four land grants.  In 1858, the Butterfield Stagecoach rumbled through on its way to San Francisco carrying mail from the East.  The railroad soon replaced the stagecoach and the Santa Fe depot, built in 1882 on the banks of Murrieta Creek, became the foundation for what is known today as Old Town Temecula.  

Arizona cattle baron Walter Vail bought the four ranchos in 1904 to create the 87,500-acre Vail Ranch, the second largest ranch in California.  Many famous people passed through over the years, including Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and Helen Hunt Jackson.  Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner made Temecula his home for 33 years.

Vail Ranch was sold in 1964 for development and the area was renamed “Rancho California”.  With the completion of the I-15 corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego, a population explosion began.  When incorporated in 1989, citizens were asked to vote on a name for their new city.  They chose “Temecula” over “Rancho California”, which makes Temecula the only city in California to retain its aboriginal name. 

Article Submitted by:

Christine Damko, City of Temecula 


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