By Ryn Gargulinski
By Ryn Gargulinski
CNJ STAFF WRITER
If the little girl back in 1909 had been studying Spanish history rather than French, “Clovis” could have ended up “Ferdinand” or “Rodriguez.”
The little girl was a railroad official’s daughter, who chose the name “Clovis” after the first Christian king of the Frankish empire who ruled from 461-511 A.D., according to the Web site www.clovisnm.org.
Although many Clovis residents said the story behind the name is pretty widespread, there are a host of other place names in New Mexico for which the origin is a tad more obscure. Some are even unknown, and others are purely historical or purely obvious.
Elephant Butte, for example, was so named because it looks like an elephant. According to the Web site www.win.net, the name came from an island in the Elephant Butte Reservoir which was formed by the eroding core of an ancient volcano that resembled an elephant.
Several place names become obvious when translated from the Spanish. Alto, located 9 miles northwest of Ruidoso, was named by postmaster W. H. Walker in 1901, said Phyllis Eileen Banks in her series of articles on the Web site www.southernnewmexico.com. The name becomes apparent when one finds out that the elevation of Alto is 7,300 feet above sea level and Alto, in Spanish, means “high.”
The history behind another Spanish named town, Alamogordo, also makes its moniker obvious. According to Banks, Alamogordo was established when Northwestern Railroad owner Charles B. Eddy planned a community lined with big cottonwood trees. The Spanish “Alamo Gordo” translates to “fat cottonwood.”
Foliage also lent its name to the town of Carrizozo. “Carrizo,” in Spanish, means “reed grass.” Banks explains that a ranch foreman, wishing to attract people to the area for its massive amounts of reed grass, added the extra “zo” to indicate the reed grass’ glorious abundance.
Portales, too, got its name from the Spanish language. The town was rife with spring water gushing from caves. Early residents thought the caves looked the porches on their hacienda homes. Thus “Los Portales” became Portales, or portals to the southwest, Banks said.
One rumor behind the origin of “Las Cruces” is that the first European who came through the town found three graves marked by crosses. The mystery still remains as to who put the Christian crosses on the graves in a land full of heathens, Banks said. The city honors its history by lighting three large crosses every Easter and Christmas.
Some towns are even misnamed in Spanish. Tularosa derived its name from “tule,” meaning reeds or cattails. The “rosa” part was later added as early settlers found it more appealing and true to the lush “City of Roses” that flourished there, Banks said.
Another New Mexico city was named for love. Not necessarily because it was filled with adoration, but because of the man who founded it. Lovington was named by Robert Florence Love, who original filed a permit to call it Loving. Since that name was already in use, Banks said, Love changed the application and the rest is history.
Other place names are derived from historical figures, according to Banks.
Roswell, renown for its aliens, was named by professional gambler Van C. Smith in honor of his father Roswell Smith.
Luna, which could easily conjure up images of the moon, was instead so named after Don Solomon Luna. Luna was a hefty political figure who lived in the area — location — with his massive flocks of sheep.
Finally, New Mexico is home to several towns with names derived from odd sources.
Texico, according to “The Site of Unimaginative City Names” at www.deuceofclubs.com, was simply a merging of the words “Texas” and “Mexico” to indicate its proximity to the state border. The site, however, does cut Texico some slack by placing it in the category: “Unimaginatively named cities that are nonetheless kind of imaginative.”
Tucumcari, famous for being located on the Old Route 66, is another place with an imaginative name — and story behind it, according to the Web site www.edge.net. Tucumcari historian Herman Moncus is said to have deciphered the meaning of the name after hearing a Jemez Indian sing the Tucumcari Buffalo Hunting Song. The Jemez, who were big hunters, translated “Tucumcari” to mean “place of buffalo hunt.” However, other Indians throughout the area, perhaps the Oklahoma Indians, translated the name to mean “dark place.”
Truth or Consequences
Perhaps one of the most famous place names in New Mexico, especially since it was named after a national radio show, is Truth or Consequences. Commonly called T or C, the town is on its third name, according to Banks.
Originally called Palomas Springs for the large number of “palomas,” or doves, it was later renamed to Hot Springs after the healing springs in the area.
It became Truth or Consequences in 1950 as part of publicity stint when Ralph Edwards, host the radio show of the same name, said he would reward any city willing to take on the show’s moniker. Townsfolk, sick of being confused with other Hot Springs throughout the country, voted to change the name and get free publicity, Banks said.
The name changed was approved by the majority.
An uprising of 295 disgruntled townsfolk demanded the vote be taken again, where the name won by an even larger margin. Edwards made good on his promise, Banks said, and the first episode of “Truth or Consequences” was broadcast live from Truth or Consequences.
The story does not end there. Votes were taken to change the name in 1964 and again in 1967. The town remains T or C with an annual ceremony in honor of Ralph Edwards. Still alive at age 91, Edwards attended the festivities every year until three or four years ago, according to deputy city clerk Hazel Peterson.
Much of the history of New Mexico is recorded in place names. The origin of the names of New Mexico’s counties show an interesting cross-section of this history.
Each of New Mexico’s 33 counties is listed in chronological order below, with a brief description of the origin of the name and the town which serves as its county seat.
Socorro — created in 1844 by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1850 by the territorial government of what was to become New Mexico; named for the largest city in the county, which is also the county seat.
Bernalillo — created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for the settlement of Bernalillo nearby; county seat is Albuquerque.
Dona Ana — created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for its first county seat — the village of Dona Ana; county seat is now Las Cruces.
Rio Arriba — created in 1852 as one of the nine original counties; named for the geographic location of the area relative to the Rio Grande (“rio arriba” translates to “upper river”); county seat is Tierra Amarilla.
San Miguel — originally created by the Republic of Mexico in 1844 and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for the town of San Miguel del Bado (Saint Michael of the Ford); county seat is now Las Vegas.
Santa Fe — originally created by the Republic of Mexico in 1844 and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; county seat is Santa Fe.
Taos — originally created by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for it’s largest town; county seat is Taos.
Valencia — originally created by the Republic of Mexico and designated in 1852 as one of the nine original counties by the territorial legislature; named for the village of Valencia; county seat is Los Lunas.
Mora — created in 1860, named for the town of Mora, which is also its county seat.
Grant — one of five counties named for a president (though at the time, Grant was still General and had not won the Office of President yet); created in 1868 and named in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Lincoln — one of five counties named for a president; created in 1869 and named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.
Colfax — the only New Mexico county named after a Vice-president; created in 1869 and named in honor of Vice—President—Elect Schuyler Colfax.
Sierra — created in 1884 and possibly named for the Black Range mountains (“sierra” means “mountain range”).
San Juan — created in 1887 and named for the San Juan River; county seat is Aztec.
Chaves — created in 1889 and named for Col. Jose Francisco Chaves, a native of Bernalillo and delegate to Congress; county seat is Roswell.
Eddy — created in 1889 and named for Charles B. Eddy, a developer in the area; county seat is Carlsbad.
Guadalupe — created in 1891 and named for Our Lady of Guadalupe; the county was once renamed Leonard Wood for a colonel in the First NM Volunteer Cavalry, but the name was later changed back to Guadalupe; county seat is Santa Rosa.
Union — created in 1893; county seat is Clayton.
Otero — created in 1899 and named for Miguel Otero, the Territorial Governor of New Mexico at that time; county seat is Alamogordo.
McKinley — one of five counties named for a president; created in 1889 and named in honor of President William McKinley; county seat is Gallup.
Luna — created in 1901 and named for Solomon Luna, a prominent political figure in the area; county seat is Deming.
Quay — created in 1903 and named for Matthew S. Quay, a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who fought for statehood for New Mexico; county seat is Tucumcari.
Roosevelt — one of five counties named for a president; created in 1903 and named for President Theodore Roosevelt.
Sandoval — created in 1903 and named for the Sandoval family of the area; county seat is Bernalillo.
Torrance — created in 1903 and named for Francis J. Torrance, a railroad developer; county seat is Estancia.
Curry — created in 1909 and named for George Curry, a Kansas native who was territorial governor of New Mexico from 1907—1910; county seat is Clovis.
De Baca — created in 1917 and named for Ezequiel Cabeza de Baca, New Mexico’s second state governor; county seat is Fort Sumner.
Lea — created in 1917 and named for Capt. Joseph Calloway Lea, a prominent leader in Chaves County and founder of the New Mexico Military Academy; county seat is Lovington.
Hidalgo — created in 1919 and named for Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest who fought for Mexico’s independence; county seat is Lordsburg.
Catron — created in 1921 and named for Thomas B. Catron, a prominent politician in New Mexico’s history; county seat is Reserve.
Harding — one of five counties named after a President; created in 1921 and named in honor of President Warren G. Harding; county seat is Mosquero.
Los Alamos — created in 1949 and named for its principal town; county seat is Los Alamos.
Cibola — created in 1981; county seat is Grants.