My Very Own Folk Etymology


The true derivation: California is named after a fictional exotic country.

My take on it, long before I knew that:

“Cali” = “beautiful”, from Greek “καλλι-” (borrowed by Latin as “calli-”);

“forn” = “oven” (as in “al forno”) AND “brothel” (as in “fornication”), from Latin “fornax” and “fornix” respectively, both of which appear to lead back to PIE “*gwher-”;

finished off with the suffix “-ia”, common at the end of place names (Utopia, Philadelphia, Asia, Russia, Ethiopia, Colombia, etc), often carrying the meaning of “the place where …” or “the place of …”;

giving something like “Beautiful Oven-Place, With Fornication”.

In my extremely narrow experience, having visited Los Angeles for a couple of weeks one summer, I can confirm it’s both beautiful and an oven. I saw no particular evidence for brothels or fornication, but I did see many people whose desperate pursuit of hotness was clearly not limited to high temperatures.


I very much appreciate this etymological branch.


Look up folk etymology vs false etymology. It’ll make you mad (or at least it did to me haha).


fornication (n.)

c. 1300, from Old French fornicacion “fornication, lewdness; prostitution; idolatry”

idolatry (n.)

“worship of idols and images,”

Idolatry = image worship
Idiolatry = self image worship

The sense of “understand clearly, comprehend the reality of”

You can’t see California without Marlon Brando’s eyes

Fun huh