California Desert Names

Guest blogger Susan Chesney writes about the evocative place and nature names of the California desert.

One of my favorite places is the California desert, because in that silent place there are many secrets.  Most people drive through the desert as fast as they can with their windows up, radios blaring, and air conditioners on. They don’t know about the gray-green sagebrush that grows in little clumps away from the highway, and that hidden among the clumps might be a bleached antler, lying in the sand. What if they knew that outside the town of Bishop, there are several hot ditches, natural and soothing hot springs, waiting to be soaked in, free of charge? Or what about this secret: that the desert is unpolluted– there is very little trash and the skies are a deep blue. I love the mirage effect out in the desert. There is a blend of haze and heat that shimmers and is mystical. In the movie “Lawrence of  Arabia”, when asked why he loves the desert, Lawrence replies, “Because it’s clean.”

Among the precious secrets of the California desert is the treasure trove of names that dot the landscape along with the cactus, lizards, and Joshua trees. There are little towns, rivers, lakes, hills, plants, animals and even colors in the desert that can provide inspiration for babies’ names. Some of these names are comfy or even popular like Owen and Joshua. Others are vintage, offbeat and quirky such as Aberdeen and Rosamond. So let’s wander out under the cottonwood trees that grow next to the crick (creek), set up some lawn chairs, and talk about California desert names.

Some place names from the California Desert:

ALABAMA – the Alabamas, hills that are older than the High Sierras

ABERDEENAberdeen trailer park

BERNARDINO – San Bernardino County, goes all the way to the Nevada border

BISHOP – biggest town in the Owens valley

CADIZ – a tiny community in the Mojave Desert

CALICO – a ghost town, used to be a mining town

CHINA – China Lake

COACHELLA – a town near Palm Springs that hosts the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

COLORADOColorado River

HARPERHarper Lake

HESPERIA – a city in the Mojave Desert

INDEPENDENCE – a very small town in the Owens Valley

INDIO – a city near Palm Springs

JACINTO – San Jacinto Mountains

JOSHUAJoshua Tree National Park

LEONALeona Valley

MOJAVEMojave Desert

OWENOwens Valley

PALM – Palm Springs

PINELone Pine, Big Pine, little towns in the Owens Valley

PEARBLOSSOM – sounds like a fairy, but it’s a town in the Antelope Valley

PINON – Pinon Hills, pronounced PIN-yon

RENOReno’s café, that may still be in Mojave, had various sizes of animal heads on the paneled walls.

ROSAMOND – a small town in the Antelope Valley.

VICTOR – Victorville, a large town on Interstate 15 that has every kind of fast food you can imagine.

ZZYZX – the man who founded this tiny community wanted its name to be the last word in the atlas. Pronounced ZIZZ-ex.

Nature Names of the California Desert:

CLOVER – prairie clover, a plant

CORAL – a color in the desert

COYOTE – desert coyotes are usually clean and healthy looking, unlike their urban cousins.

DAISY – white wooly daisy, a plant

FOX – the desert kit fox

JACK – jackrabbit

JUNIPERUtah juniper, a plant

LARKSPUR – a plant

ROSY – rosy boa, a snake

SAGE – sagebrush

TURQUOISE – a color in the desert

Susan Chesney, a graduate of Art Center College of Design, was the president of a printing and graphics company for twelve years. She lives near Pasadena, California with her husband Kent, daughter Laura (son Peter lives nearby), and cat Moses Malone.

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19 Responses to “California Desert Names”

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ricamaca Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 9:41 am

Great Blog, Susan!

I especially like Coral, Bishop, and Leona! Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 9:56 am

Great blog! I loved driving through the desert and stopping at some of these places when I lived in California.

I love Clover, Sage, Alabama, & Harper.

SarahinJune Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 10:52 am

Clover and Fox are adorable. I think they’d work very well in the middle.

lyndsayjenness Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 10:59 am

You should be a writer, Susan! I love all the imagery you used. I love Calico, Clover and Coral… that would be a nice sibset for kittens or bunnies.

I’ve never really been to the dessert, which is strange considering I grew up in Southern California and we took all our vacations in CA because my dad believed we had so much to see in our own state that there was no reason to go anywhere else!

Kathryn Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:37 pm

As someone who lives next door tp the California desert, a couple of these are funny to me. I guess the city names don’t seem like places I’d want to name a kid after. Many are extremely small and not exactly picturesque. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is great beauty in the desert, but not so much in the towns there. You won’t catch me living there anytime soon.

I can’t believe you didn’t mention Poppy. The California Poppy proliferates all over the desert and the Antelope Valley has a reserve there.

Lauren Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Interesting blog! I love Harper, Leona, and Clover. Also like Sage, Fox, and Jack

Rosamund Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for a great blog Susan! Very enjoyable.

susan Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Thank you for all the kind feedback, everyone!
I think Chine is supposed to be China on the list of place names.
Kathryn, one of the top attractions of place names, I think, is that you name your child after an exotic place that’s far away or, on the other hand, after a place that means a lot to you. California desert names have a lot of meaning for me because my husband and I spent a lot of time in the Owens Valley when we were dating. Because he loved the desert so much, I started loving it, too. For example, now I even enjoy hot, dusty, windy Victorville in a strange way. Love the name Victor, too! On the other hand, Bishop which is in the Owens Valley is absolutely gorgeous, especially in the winter when you see vistas of the snowy High Sierras.
I love to hear the beautiful place names that are all over the world. Nameberryites, do share your favorite place names that are near your homes!

Pamela Satran Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Fixed China, Susan.

ailsa gray Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Great blog Susan, your opening paragraph perfectly evoked images of the desert for me!

My friend Ros(amund) will be amused to know she has a Californian desert name!

I will email you soon. Bogged down with college and new job, but hope I will be able to write to you very soon.

Well done, you!


Rosamund Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Just wanted to add to my first comment that I was also very happy to read that the name Rosamond is a Californian desert name!

disa_lan Says:

November 3rd, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Great blog Susan! I love the idea of using names from nature and our surrounding environment.
Nature and non nature names near my area include Tahoe , Davis, Berkeley, Auburn, Folsom, Lassen, and Shasta.

Jill Says:

November 4th, 2009 at 1:29 am

I really enjoyed this, Susan! Whenever I suggest nature names for people, I refer to your earlier blog, and it’s good to know that I now have yet another brilliant Susan resource. 🙂

I really love Clover and Juniper.

Great job! 🙂

susan Says:

November 4th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Looking forward to hearing from you, Ailsa!
Rosamund is such a gorgeous name, Rosamund, you are so lucky.
Thanks, Disa, I love Berkely the most on your list. Love Shasta, too. I’ve spent a lot of time in your area. I bought a wonderful old chair in your area that is now in our living room.
Thanks, Jill, for your comment.

J Says:

November 4th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Aberdeen is cute, but can’t imagine anyone wanting to name her kid after a trailer park.

jenbrittt Says:

November 5th, 2009 at 12:07 am

THe California and Arizona deserts are my favorite places in the whole world, I want to live their someday, I loved this blog, thanks!

teabee Says:

November 6th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

What a fun post, Susan! I wondered what the deal was with ZZYZX when I drove to Vegas a couple years ago. Unfortunately that ride is about the only time I’ve spent in our deserts, that and Temecula. I’m hoping to check out the wildflowers in the spring next year, and Scotty’s castle.

Pam Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Awwwwwwwwwwwwww! Sooooooooooo cute!!!- Pam

la Says:

December 26th, 2010 at 10:38 am




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