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I’m thinking about the name “San Diego” since we just attended the DMA National Show there.

We usually don’t think about the name of the American city to which we are traveling at any given time. When booking a flight, we type “San Diego” as the destination, thinking of it as just another American city, albeit a beautiful Californian one. “San Diego” feels simply American, as does “New York City,” “Houston,” or “St. Louis.” We don’t think about the name being of Spanish origin (or St. Louis being of French origin), and whether or not that reflects the current character of the place. As we travel through the mixing bowl that is the United States, however, Spanish (and other) influences resonate in the place names of this country.

I spend most of my time at Ethnic Technologies researching people’s names rather than place names, but there is substantial overlap between the two. According to the San Diego Historical Society, the city’s name arrived with the Spanish explorer and diplomat Sebastian Vizcaino in November 1602. Vizcaino’s journey by ship from Acapulco took six months. When he arrived, he named the city after his flagship. The name was also in honor of the November feast of San Diego de Alcala (a Spanish Franciscan).

Diego is the Spanish form of James. It is sometimes a shortened form of Santiago, or Saint James. Perhaps when we meet someone named Diego, or Santiago, we immediately conceive of his ethnic origin, since those names tend to remain in the Hispanic community. Yet I would argue that with the place name San Diego, despite the Hispanic flavor of the city, our first thoughts are not of Spain (or Mexico) but of beautiful American California. It is interesting how a distinctly Hispanic name can feel very American. And on that note, I resume packing.

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