Malibu Local Nomenclature An Odd Mix

by ritasimpson on January 9, 2012

in Community Information


Malibu Surfside News


Most Malibu residents adapt quickly to the local nomenclature, but even by California standards Malibu has an odd mix of place names. A never-to-be-forgotten visitor once stumped a resident with a request for directions to “ToppaAnga Sin,” and even among longtime residents the meaning of local names and their history is sometimes a mystery.

Pragmatic settlers christened  Boney Ridge, Sandstone Peak, Cross Creek, Westward Beach, Corral Canyon and Broad Beach with un-enigmatic accuracy, although Sandstone Peak is actually volcanic, not sedimentary.

Many of Malibu’s Spanish names sound more romantic but are also largely pragmatic: Encinal, which means oakgrove, was named for the canyon’s impressive live oak woodlands; Trancas, meaning barrier, describes the narrow box canyon in western Malibu that was ideal for containing cattle; Latigo means harness leather; Puerco, pig.

Las Flores was named for the canyon’s abundant spring flowers; Tuna Canyon gets its name from the native prickly pear cactus. La Costa means simply coast, while Escondido means hidden.

Yerba Buena could be named for any of the dozens of “good plants” the grow in the area, but the consensus is that the road takes its name from redshanks, a shrub that is abundant in the highest portion of the Santa Monica Mountains and rarely seen in the rest of the range. It was used by the Chumash, the Spanish and Mexican Americans as a medicine for toothache, fevers, colds, injuries and infections.

Most of Malibu’s Spanish names are said to date from the period when the Rancho was owned by the Tapia family, in the early 1900s. The Tapia name is commemorated in Tapia Park.

The Prudhomme family, who purchased Malibu in 1848,  and Irish immigrant Matthew Keller, who acquired the Ranchero in 1857, appear not to have left any names behind, other than “Keller’s Shelter,” a name that appears on maps along the shore at Old Malibu Road.

Ramirez and Zumirez  are Spanish surnames, but if the locations given those names were named for specific individuals no record appears to have survived.

Solstice Canyon was renamed from the original Soston Canyon—presumably another surname—in the 20th century.

El Matador—the bullfighter, El Pescador—the fish, and La Piedra—the stone, apparently acquired their names in the early 20th century.

Lechuza, Spanish for “barn owl,” may be folk-etymology derived from the area’s original, somewhat similar sounding Chumash name, “Lisiqsihi.” According to Chumash language specialist Richard Applegate. His research indicates that Arroyo Sequit, may also derive from Lisiqsihi. Applegate suggests the word wasVentureño for  “beachworm.”

Water baron William Mulholland lends his name to the road that cuts through Arroyo Sequit on its way through the Santa Monica Mountains to Pacific Coast Highway at Leo Carrillo State Park.

Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo, born Aug. 6, 1881, died Sept. 10, 1961, was a fourth generation Californian, and an actor, vaudevillian, political cartoonist, and conservationist. Carrillo served on the California Beach and Parks commission for eighteen years and was involved in the acquisition of Hearst Castle, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and other properties.

He purchased 1500 acres in Arroyo Sequit from Waite Phillips, a Los Angeles financier, in 1952.

Carrillo left an endowment after his death to fund the conversion of the ranch into a State Park.

Other 20th century individuals commemorated in Malibu place names include Busch Drive, named for Malibu Realtor Louis Busch; Merritt Drive, commemorating Merritt Adamson, Jr., the son of Rindge family heir Rhoda Rindge and Merritt Adamson; and Decker Canyon, named for the homesteading family who dynamited the road out of the mountainside in the early 20th century.

Malibu, home for thousands of years to Chumash communities, retains only a few Chumash place names, including the city’s name, adapted from a VentureñoChumash word that means “where the surf sounds.”

Topanga Canyon, which confused that hapless visitor, means “above” in theTongva language. Anacapa Island, visible on clear days from west Malibu beaches, is said to mean mirage.

While British explorer George Vancouver is credited with naming Point Dume for Father Francisco Dumetz, whom he visited prior to naming the peninsula in 1793, there is evidence to suggest the word Dume may have come from the same root as Zuma, the Chumash word Sumo, which reportedly means abundance.

Vancouver named Point Mugu for the Chumash community of Muwu, shortly before assigning the name Dume, not Dumetz, to the eastern point. “This Point I will call ‘Point Dume,’” he wrote.

Frederick Hastings Rindge, who purchased the entire 13,300-acre Malibu Rancho in 1892, called the point “Duma,” and stated the name was derived fromZuma.

His view may be supported by information provided by Chumash elderFerdinando Librado to ethnographer John Peabody Harrington between 1912-15, who said that “Sumo extends out to sea and at the end of the point there was a hill.” Librado added that “Sumo is called in nautical language Dume.”

Point Dume was a significant Chumash population center. The portion  that is now part of Point Dume State Beach was reportedly a shrine site.

Other portions of the point, now developed, contained the remains of large villages and several cemeteries. The street name “Indian Mound” within the Point Dume Club Mobile Home Park is a reminder of what was there before homes were built.

Homeowners on De Buttes Terrace, which was named for the De Buttes family who lived there in the mid 20th century, petitioned the Malibu City Council in 2006 to change the name of their street to “Paradise View Way.”

They were required to choose a name with historical significance and opted to rechristen the road Murphy Way, after the family of film director Dudley Murphy, who once owned several Malibu-area properties, including the celebrated Holiday House Inn, now Geoffrey’s Restaurant, and what is now Cold Creek Preserve, one of the most pristine and undisturbed portions of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Fauquier Road, also named by Marianne and Edward Delaplane De Buttes in the 1950s was changed decades ago to Winding Way.

The Paradise that the newly named Murphy Way overlooks was given its name in the early 20th century.

On nautical charts the cove is still called Banning Harbor, named for CaptainPhineas Banning whose ships would regularly anchor in the cove while the crews went ashore to cut oak wood that was shipped to San Pedro.

Rindge appears to have enjoyed creating romantic names for landmarks on his ranch. Few of the names mentioned in his book “Happy Days in California” appear to have stuck.

The location of “Conviction, Conversion and Salvation” peaks, “Cataclysm Chasm,” “Mocking Bird Valley,” “Crag Noble,” and  “Sycamore Grove” are anyone’s guess today.

Rindge gives a colorful account of the dread bandit Nicholas, driven into the mountains by the Mexican soldiers. “I know the precipice over which he leaped, rather than be taken alive,” Rindge wrote. He indicates, however, that the location was apparently in Tuna Canyon, not what is called today Nicholas Canyon.

In Rindge’s Massachusetts hometown, streets and buildings are named for the philanthropist. In Malibu almost no trace of the Rindge name remains.



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