I'm reading a book on Mexican history, and noticed in a map that there are two towns or cities next to each other in Baja California, one named Purgatorio (purgatory) and the other Providencia (Providence).

There is a Providence, Rhode Island, and a "Purgatory" (Purgotoire, or "Picket Wire") river in the U.S., but they are not close to each other.

What is the story behind these two place names? There's got to be something interesting here. I googled/binged, but could not find it out.

  • 2
    Which book? That would be quite a useful information in order to answer properly…
    – o0'.
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 9:52
  • Why does the book matter? I'm just asking about two towns that exist in Baja California, which I noticed on a map in the book. Nevertheless, it is "General History of Mexico" (that would be the English title, but it's in Spanish) or some such, printed 2010 or 2011, I think. The chapters cover periods of time in Mesoamerica's/Mexico's history, from precolonial to 2010. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 17:10

1 Answer 1


From what I gathered, without knowing which book it was you were reading, both towns appear to have been two mining centers, established by the mining company El Boleo, and they must have just taken their names from existing landmarks (mountains or streams – there's a Purgatorio stream near Santa Rosalía, in the center of that mining area). In any case, looks like it was nothing strange for the Spaniards to name places like that, for, from what I have seen, there's at least one Purgatorio stream in Sonora, another one in Jalisco and, much farther away, one in Colombia. The Purgatoire river, being in Colorado, it's my guess that it was so named by the Spaniards and got its name anglicised (Protestants don't believe in Purgatory and it would be odd for them to name anything after it).
Providence, Rhode Island, was named, as also was every Spanish town of that name, after the Divine Providence by its founders, deeply religious people, so in that case it was just coincidence.

  • I don't know about Mexico, but in Catalonia (with the same religion) geographical features named after Purgatory or even Hell aren't uncommon. Some of them suggest "difficult" places, like 19th century tracks that were difficult or dangerous to pass with a fully loaded wagon.
    – Pere
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 13:02

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