California County Naming

California has a curiously high count of misleadingly named counties. Most of this odd naming is due to historical span of counties being different from current spans due to new counties splitting off and forming and the such, but it’s still interesting to think about how everything came about in Californian county names, which in many cases upon present view are pretty absurd.

Let’s start from the north. California has a Lassen County, but Mt. Lassen is not in it, and in fact is in Shasta County. Mt. Shasta, meanwhile, is in Siskiyou County.

There is a Nevada County in California, but this is really because the Nevada refers here to the original etymology of the word as “snowy,” which is further evidenced by the fact that it is next to Sierra County, which, incidentally, has the lowest share of the Sierra Nevada out of all counties that have a part of it (and Nevada County the next lowest share). So much for Sierra.

To the west of Nevada County, we have Yuba County, but Yuba City is actually the county seat of Sutter County. Sutter County also has the most representative buttes in California, not Butte County.

Just to the south of Nevada County, we have Placer County, but Placerville isn’t in it; it is the county seat of El Dorado County.

Then we have Alpine County, which is quite far from the town of Alpine, CA.

Calaveras County has no share of the Calaveras Fault, and, being in the Sierra Nevada, is not even close to it. Incidentally, Calaveras County’s county seat, the town of San Andreas, is no closer to the San Andreas Fault.

Finally, Kings County and Imperial County are ironically two of the poorest counties in California.

I could also mention some minor nuances, like how many counties are named for one of the less prominent cities of the county (Santa Clara/San Jose; Tulare/Visalia; Orange/Santa Ana, Anaheim, Irvine, etc.), as well as the fact that Amador Valley High School is far from Amador County, which is in the Sierra Nevada. Incidentally, on the subject of high schools, there is a Fremont High School, but it’s in Sunnyvale, not Fremont. There is also a Fremont Union High School District that includes Fremont High School, as well as Cupertino High, Homestead High, Lynbrook High, and Monta Vista High, none of which are in Fremont. Cupertino High, however, is indeed in Cupertino. Congratulations.


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