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Sunday, August 28, 1983

Recalling Names from Another Era

Ernest D. Wichels

The way of life changes; our technology, our economy and manner of living all effect our language. In grandfathers’ days no one ever heard of “tuberculosis; ” it was called “consumption.” When you rode a bicycle, it was always a “wheel.”

Few youngsters of today can define a “singletree” or a “doubletree.”  And very few folk today use the one time universal description of silver coins: “two-bits,” “four-bits” and “six-bits.”  The same is tune of place names. For the greater part of this century, “the city”  invariably meant San Francisco. Even during the Klondike gold rush in Canada and Alaska, as told by Jack London, anyone returning to “the States” always bought a ticket for “the city,” and it didn’t mean Seattle, it was San Francisco.  Up in Napa Valley, if you bought a ticket at the Southern Pacific depot in any community, you said “the city” if you meant San Francisco.

Earlier, in the 1850s to the 1880s, “the city” in upper Solano county always referred to Suisun City.  San Francisco, to true Californians, has always been called just that, and most “natives” and even adopted sons and daughters will resent anyone using the ugly term “Frisco.”  Los Angeles is usually “L.A.” even to natives of that area.  A half century or more ago, “going to the river” by 1 Vallejoans and Napans always meant the Russian River where so many local families had cabins, Today, going to the river is meaningless.

In grandfather’s day, “going to the lake” here or in Napa county, was like saying “We’re going to Lake County,” and exceedingly popular vacation area years ago. Especially was this true when the many springs and resorts were running full blast with campers and guests such as Adams Springs, Spires, Seigler’s, Anderson Springs, Harbin’s Bartlett, Witter, Hobergs and half a dozen others,  “Going to the lake today” is usually understood to mean either Berryessa or, more likely, Tahoe.

Some population centers in California used the phrase “going to the valley,” but this doesn’t mean anything to most local readers.  “Going to the beach” was never a very popular expression locally, but when it was used it referred to the Pacific shores in Marin County. In those days hundreds of Vallejoans annually made the trip to Willow , Camp either by vintage auto or by boat to San Francisco, then by boat to Sausalito, electric train to Mill Valley, and then hike via the Dipsea Trail to Willow Camp. Where was that? Well, the elitists have since changed the name to “Stinson Beach.”  But also, in grandfather’s day, “going to the beach” could mean a trip to the south bayshore of Alameda where “Neptune Beach” was a very popular resort. This Alameda City beach had roller coasters, games and all of the attractions kids enjoy.

But, until the people on the other side of the rockies became better acquainted with our wonderful country on the Pacific slope, there were some very funny pronunciations of California names.

San Jose was called “San Jo-sie,” La Jolla was “La Jollie,” and there were almost one hundred ways of saying “Vallejo.”  At the turn of this century it is reported that at least two postmasters kept a record of the spelling of Vallejo on incoming mail (Postmasters Pennycook and Walker).

Tom Gregory, in his 1912 History of Napa and Solano counties, lists more than 90 of these variations of our beautiful Spanish name.

Here are just a few: Vallahoe, Valley-Joe, Valaho, Valao, Valejo, Wallejo, Vealejo, Valleyo, Vellejo, Levejo, Walleja, Valoege, Valaja, Vallejho, Valgho, Valleijo, Veliaho, Vallegeo, Valleijo, Velaow, Veleajhio, Vallego, Vallejho, Walleio, Welayego. and some 60 others!

Californians are proud of the Indian and Spanish origins of hundreds of our place names.  And while some outsiders may have difficulty in pronouncing Tuolumne, Yosemite, Bernardino, Capistrano, Tamalpais and Yerba Buena, native sons and daughters like their “flavor.”

Interesting, too, is the fact that almost 40 California post offices are named for saints (male and female).  Such as San Francisco, San Pablo, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, San Benito and all the way south to San Diego and San Ysidro on the Mexican border.  But only one of these “saintly names” has the English spelling.  It is our own neighbor “Saint” Helena. But, it isn’t a Spanish name; the name of our Napa Valley wine capital is derived from the Russians.  Yes, we like the Indian and Spanish names in our two counties—Vallejo, Benicia, Napa, Berryessa, Vacaville, Rio Vista, Suisun, Solano, Putah, Suscol, Carneros, Mayacamas, etc.