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The Meaning of Arizona
Historians disagree about the meaning and derivation of the place name
Arizona. What is now southern Arizona and northern México was
known by the Spanish as the Pimería
Alta, or Upper Pima Country after the natives of the area whom the Spanish
called Pima. Within this area was a place that the Spanish
called Arisona, Arissona or Arizona.
Historian James H. McClintock in Arizona, Prehistoric, Aboriginal,
Pioneer, Modern: The Nation’s Youngest Commonwealth within
a Land of Ancient Culture (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing
Co., 1916) and in other works noted that the name was probably derived
from a native place name that sounded like Aleh-zon or Ali-Shonak which
meant small spring or place of the small spring. The Dictionary: Tohono
O'odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O'odham/Pima indicates
that Al Shon, translated as Place of Little Spring, is the place name
However, the current State Historian, Marshall
Trimble, agrees with Donald T. Garate, Chief of Interpretation/Historian
at Tumacácori National Historical Park,
who studied the early documents referencing the place name Arizona while
researching Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the
New World, 1693-1740 (Reno: University of Nevada Press,
2003) that Arizona is a Basque word meaning The Good Oak Tree.
Garate argues that early missionaries to the area did not note Arizona
as a native settlement. The ranchería Arizona was established
between 1734 and 1736 by Bernardo de Urrea, of Basque heritage born in
Mexico. It is south of the international border in Sonora,
about forty miles southwest of Tumacácori. The ranchería Arizona
quickly became a place of note when silver (Planchas
de Plata) was discovered nearby. In "Arizona
(Never Arizonac)," Garate records a 1737 report by Captain Juan
Bautista de Anza (father of the Anza trail explorer), that a slab of silver
weighing more that 2,500 pounds had been discovered "between the Guevavi
Mission and the ranchería called Arizona (entre la Miss.n de
Guebabi, y la ranchería del Arissona)." Garate also notes
that the place name Arizona can be found in Central and South America
where the Spanish, including the Basque, settled and where Tohono O'odham/Pima
names are unlikely to be found.
- Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. Tucson,
Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, 1988, pp. 26-27.
- Dean, Saxton, et al. Dictionary: Tohono
O'odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O'odham/Pima. Tucson,
Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, 1983, p. 138.
- Garate, Donald T. "Arizona
- Granger, Byrd Howell. Arizona’s Names: X
Marks the Place. Tucson, Ariz.: Falconer
Pub. Co., 1983, pp. 30-31.
- Thompson, Clay. "A Sorry State of Affairs When Views Change."
The Aizona Republic, February 25, 2007, p. B10.
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