San Diego – Would a City by Any Other Name be as Cool?

If you live in San Diego, there’s a good chance that you have no idea how the city (and county) was named. Well, San Diego was a real person, but not one who ever lived here.

Saint Didacus, painting courtesy San Diego Historical Society San Diego (born in 1400) was a Spanish peasant. He was named after St. James the Apostle the Greater, the Spanish patron saint. (Diego was a common alternate for Santiago or Saint James; In Latin, the name translated to Sanctus Didacus). Santiago joined the Franciscan order, and devoted his life to good works, prayer, and tending to the sick.

It is said that San Diego performed miracles. The most enduring tale about him is that he was caught sneaking some bread out to the poor. When his superior questioned him, asking what was under his cloak, he opened it and there were only flowers. Some considered this a miracle. It is also believed that after his death (in 1463 in Alcala, Spain), his relics cured Don Carlos, son of Philip II, of a grave illness.

San Diego was canonized (attaining sainthood) in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V, becoming Saint Diego (also known as St. Didacus).

When explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first saw our bay in 1542, he named it San Miguel, because the archangel’s feast day (September 29) was the first full day his party spent here.

Later, on November 11, 1602, explorer Sebastian Vizcaino renamed it San Diego de Alcala de Henares because his flagship (the San Diego) was in the bay on their patron saint’s feast day. He claimed that the reason that he renamed this land is that Cabrillo’s observations were so inaccurate that he could not find the lands Cabrillo named.

So would this be the same town if it were San Miguel? I don’t think so. Vizcaino may have had no right to rename our fair city, but I’m glad he did. Aren’t you?

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