I found this excerpt from a website discussing a theory concerning the naming of California. I want to find out what Historians say on this issue. The article is below.

Although some historical documents suggest that California was named after “calida fornax” (hot furnace) and “cal y fornos ” meaning “lime and furnace”, there is growing interest in another possibly true story about the state’s origin: that California was named after a black queen by the name of Queen Calafia.

Historians say that a Spanish writer by the name of Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo wrote a widely popular novel called Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) around 1500. Las Sergas was staged on the Island of California, said to be east of the Asian mainland. Here is Montalvo’s description:

“Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise;
and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the way of the Amazons.
They had beautiful and robust bodies, and were brave and very strong.
Their island was the strongest of the World, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores.
Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts
that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden,
because there was no other metal in the island than gold”

.–Las Sergas de Esplandián, (novela de caballería); published 1510.

Montalvo’s island of California was named after its Queen, Califia, who is said to have been a beautiful black Moor and pagan.

She was on a mission to raise an army of women warriors and sail away from California with a women army so to join a Muslim battle against Christians who are defending Constantinople.

Though Queen Califia would ultimately face defeat, she captured the imagination of many around the world, especially that of Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés who would come to explore and name the state of California.

So what do reputable historians think about this;

Was there ever a queen called Calafia?

If yes, was she a Moor?

If yes, was she black?

And if yes, was California named after her?

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    Please be aware that History.SE has a policy of closing questions that are "primarily opinion based". For this post I have attempted to edit the solicitations for opinions out - I think this question can be answered objectively by citing real scholarship - but please do keep the policy in mind when you word questions, thank you.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 22:47
  • @Semaphore Thanks for the input. I'm a newbie on this site. I got 100 points for free so I'm still learning about the rules.
    – user20490
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 23:57
  • I once read a novelization of the Get Smart TV series (1965-1970) in which Smart visited a strange place. He was told that the place was named "Paradise", although some people called it after the founder, The Caliph of Fornia.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 2:03
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    Queen Calafia and her island of California were almost certainly totally fictional. But I have read that Baja California was named after the fictional island of California, which in turned was fictionally supposed to be named after Queen Calafia. It may be noted that Calafia sounds similar to khalifa, or caliph, and that her taking an amazon force to a seige of Constantinople might be inspired by Queen Penthesilea and some amazons participating the Trojan War.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 2:12
  • The island of California was inspired by what Columbus wrote in his Diary (16th of January of 1493) about Matinino, an island in the Caribbean only populated by women. Columbus never saw it because "the waters were treacherous". It is sure that Montalvo got inspired by it to pick again the myth about the Amazons. Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 8:57

1 Answer 1


No, that doesn't seem a likely explanation, not after 750 years of reconquista. The answer is for now: we don't know.

From Wikipedia:

Spanish explorers in the 16th century, when they first discovered the Baja California peninsula west of the Sea of Cortez, at first thought the peninsula to be a large island. The name "California" was applied to the supposed island, and was probably a reference to a mythical island land described in a popular novel of the time: Las Sergas de Esplandián. Several other origins have been suggested for the word "California", including Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, South Asian, and Aboriginal American origins. All of these are disputed.


The website you refer to looks for any evidence they need to make their claims - which is okay. And ignores anything to the contrary - that's not okay. They use faulty logic to proof their point - that's very bad.

I haven't looked, but probably they will claim Cleopatra was a black queen, as she lived on the continent of Africa. I've heard Frisians say that Neptunus, the sea god, is not Roman god. It comes from the Frisian words nef Teunis (nephew Anthony). Same kind of reasoning.

The difference is that those Frisians made that claim in jest.

Was there a queen Califia?

No, there never was one.

Calafia is a fictional warrior queen who ruled over a kingdom of Moorish (Moor/Muur) black women living on the mythical Island of California. The character of Queen Calafia was created by Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo who first introduced her in his popular novel entitled Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500.


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    So in summary, no there never was a queen Calafia and yes, California was named after her :)
    – PhillS
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 7:21
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    Or she was named after her fictional realm
    – b.Lorenz
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 11:49
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    @user20490 I'm not sure if you are confused or being intentionally deceptive. Mauretania is a latin word referring to a region in North Africa, where the native people are certainly dark skinned though generally less so than those further south in Central Africa. Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean. It is a thousand miles off the coast of the other side of the continent. Unfortunately for your rather apparent views, yes, it appears that California could very well be named after the fictional black queen of a fictional black 'amazon-like' island.
    – Tal
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:41
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    @user20490 The people of North Africa were Berbers. They were conquered by Arab-Muslim expansion from the east. The area subsequently became gradually more Arabized over time. The whole Mediterranean region is a cultural melting pot due to trade. The idea that Iberians didnt associate Moorish invaders with black skin is trivially disproven by art of the time. Mauritius has nothing to do with North Africa. It is an island in the Indian Ocean thousands of miles away. I'm accusing you of either being incredibly ignorant or actively acting in bad faith.
    – Tal
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:22
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    @user20490 : Mauritius Island was named such by Dutch sailermen, either after Prince Maurits of the House of Nassau, the stadtholder of most of the Dutch Republic, or after their main boat, the Mauritius. In any case, this is not at all a reference about the ethnicity nor the skin color of its inhabitants. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:41

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