Bernie Zimmerman: What’s in a name?
Like most of you I have always called the “Queen City of the Northern Mines” Nevada City. But is that really its name?
Why am I thinking about this? Recently I watched an excellent video about suffragist Ellen Sargent produced by the Famous Marching Presidents titled “An Evening With Ellen,” it’s available on YouTube. https://youtu.be/8LN0gOftmPI
At one point, Ellen, marvelously portrayed by the actress Mary Baird, is asked about her arrival in Nevada City. She replies that it was then (1852) called Nevada and didn’t become Nevada City until 1886.
That is a date I had never heard before, so I decided to do some research. All historical sources agree that Nevada City was originally called Caldwell’s Upper Store and Deer Creek Dry Diggings, though there is not necessarily agreement about which name came first.
There’s further agreement that in early 1850, the name was changed to Nevada, which means snow-covered in Spanish. Contemporary news reports used the names Nevada and Nevada City interchangeably, though City was sometimes spelled with a small “c”.
Our first newspaper was the Nevada Journal; its first edition on April 19, 1851 is datelined Nevada City.
There are competing theories about why the word City was added to the name. One is that it was to distinguish the city from the county which was named Nevada when it was created in 1851. Another is that it was to distinguish our town from the western portion of the Utah Territory which became the Nevada Territory in 1861 and then the State of Nevada in 1864.
Of course, the name Nevada City had been in common use since the early 1850s. The US Post Office also weighed in because it needed to be able to distinguish between mail being sent to the City of Nevada and mail being sent to the State of Nevada. And so it appears that the name Nevada City has been with us ever since the 1850s. I have found no historical support for 1886.
But just because that’s the name everyone uses, is it really the town‘s name? Legally speaking, Nevada City went through several incorporations as the City of Nevada in the 1850s, including one on April 19, 1856, and later on March 12,1878.
The town seal, according to City Clerk Niel Locke, is the seal of the “Trustees of the City of Nevada.” I can find no record that the City of Nevada ever legally changed the name under which it was incorporated. Under whatever name, it’s still the Queen City. Enjoy the film.
Bernie Zimmerman lives in Nevada County.
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