This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

What the name of Mesa, Arizona means

Mesa is the Spanish word for table, which is how Mesa, Arizona got its name. It's a description of a piece of land that sits up a little higher than the surrounding area, and is flat on top. It's often called tableland. It's not really as high as a big plateau, but in a valley as flat as the Salt River Valley, it was noticeable.

Of course, you can't see it now, because of all of the buildings around Mesa, but before that area started to populate, you could. And it was important because the valley flooded, and you really don't want to build something where it floods. So the name Mesa had a strong meaning to people who might have been skeptical about buying land. Yes, the whole Salt River Valley is a giant floodplain, which has only very recently been controlled (and sometimes not so well!).

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I've always had a fascination with the names of things. Sometimes they mean nothing, like Glendale, where I live, which just sounded good to the founders, that's all. But I always try to find out. Jumping to conclusions about names is what caused me so much disappointment when I drove up to Snowflake years ago, thinking that it would be a good place to see snow (I saw the name on a map). No, it was named after two guys, one named "Snow" and one named "Flake". I've been very skeptical since then!

Since I speak a little Spanish (VERY little) I've been amused by the people who don't realize the meanings behind names. In Los Angeles, I often visited the La Brea tar pits (la brea is a Spanish word for the tar, which is black, goopy stuff). And then I would visit the La Brea bakery and get a chuckle out of the name. Who would name a bakery after black goopy stuff? Well, the meaning of the name gets lost, and it just becomes a bit of trivia.

So knowing what a mesa is is just a bit of trivia, I know. It doesn't change anything, as a rose by any other name will smell as sweet, of course. But I like finding this stuff out, and it's always made me more comfortable on planet earth. I try not to be the boring one at parties who talks about this kind of stuff, and I sure don't want to be a "corrector" - which is a good way to get a punch in the nose, so I write about it here.

Thanks for visiting Mesa with me today. Wow, we can see a long way from here!

Image at the top of this post: doing maintance on the Consolidated Canal in 1891, Mesa, Arizona. Back then you could see the tableland, or mesa.

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