How the city of Tucson, Arizona got its name
I've always had a fascination with names. Yes, I know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I'm still a kid, and I always wanted to know "why?" My parents put up with my questions until I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, and I continued my research there. I don't know why I feel this way, but once a question like this hits me it's an itch that I have to scratch. And then about a thousand other questions pop up, so I have to continue to research them, too. I will always be that kid, and I will never have enough to time to learn everything that I want to know, but I'm trying.
What is cool about learning about the name of Tucson is that it really gets me time-traveling. So please come along with me - I could use some help with the two languages we'll need: Spanish and Pima Indian.
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Yes, Tucson is the Old Pueblo, but we have go back much farther in time. We need to travel back to long before the Spanish had seen this area, to the time of the Pima Indians. And no one really knows how many hundreds, or thousands of years that was. We start with the Pima people. Nowadays they're called the Akimel O'odham, which means the River People. But really, where we're going, they're simply the People. The name of all groups of people is the people - only outsiders need to call them anything else.
From modern-day Mexico up north to the Gila River is where the people lived. And like all people, they had names for things. And the area around what would some day be called Tucson, they had a name that the outsiders, who spoke Spanish, heard as "Tucsón. So, if you follow me here, it's kind of a Spanish word, and kind of a Pima Indian word.
Of course, there was no other town anywhere near that town, that was like that town, so, like Los Angeles, it was just called "the town" by the Spanish-speaking people. That's was Pueblo means. But as the population of the area increased, the name of Tucson caught on.
When it became part of the United States, the name remained. Like many places in California, the name was not anglicized (turned into an English word). It went into common usage, and people mostly never gave it a second thought, like San Diego, or San Francisco. But when you speak the word Tucson, and listen carefully, you can hear the echos of the Pima, and the Spanish people.
Image at the top of this post: Tucson, Arizona in the 1950s, from a postcard.
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Posted by Brad Hall