Claim: The town of Paradise, California, was named after the
Origins: The abundance of place names in the U.S. (and other parts of the world) that incorporate the word “paradise” hardly needs explaning. One can well imagine settlers coming across new areas offering some combination of pleasantly temperate weather, bountifully fertile soil, and gorgeous natural scenery, and deciding that such places truly deserved names reflective
of their appearances as little bits of heaven on Earth. (Upon occasion, the name “Paradise” has also been applied derisively to some strikingly inhospitable geographic locations.) In California alone, one can find a Paradise Craggy, Paradise Dam, Paradise Cay, and of course a town named Paradise.
Paradise, California — a town in Butte County, about
any other similarly-named place. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, its altitude (about
vegetables, fruits, and nuts crops, leading Paradise to once possess the title of “the apple center of California.”
Despite the obvious appropriateness of its name, a legend nonetheless persists that Paradise, a Gold Rush-era town, was so named not because it resembled Eden, but because it was home to the
The case for the
[Sylva’s] great-great-grandfather, William Pierce Leonard, named this popular retirement town on a summer day in 1864, after a hot and dusty ride up from the Sacramento Valley. The crew of his sawmill was outside taking a break when he arrived. Leonard, who was affectionately known as “Uncle Billy,” dismounted his horse, took a deep breath of the cool, clean air, and exclaimed, “Boys, this is paradise.”
The story about “Uncle Billy” might also be a bit of pleasingly inventive historical fiction, but lacking any more evidence either way, we’d have to agree with William of Occam that the simpler explanation should be preferred, and Paradise was probably so named merely because it was a pleasant place to live.
Last updated: 19 September 2013
Gallant, Frank K. A Place Called Peculiar: Stories About Unusual Place Names. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1998. ISBN 0-87779-619-X (p. 29). Gudde, Erwin G. California Place Names. University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 0-520-24217-3 (p. 281). Quimby, Myron J. Scratch Ankle, U.S.A. — American Place Names and Their Derivation. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1969. ISBN 0-498-06638-X (p. 251).