Take a minute to find out what some of Yosemite’s famous place names mean, and you’ll uncover valuable nuggets of the park’s history, from Native American tribes and Spanish explorers to California pioneers and early conservationists.
Ahwahnee – Likely means “large gaping mouth,” referring to the Yosemite Valley. The name comes from the language of the Ahwahneechee (literally, “dwellers of the Ahwahnee”) people who inhabited the valley at the time of first contact with Europeans and Western settlers. Today, Ahwahnee is the name of the national park’s grandest hotel.
Bridalveil Fall – Originally called Pohono (“puffing wind”) by the Ahwahneechee people. In 1856 a newspaper editor from the mining town of Mariposa gave the waterfall the name Bridalveil, due to its lacy appearance in late summer.
Hetch Hetchy – A Miwok word for the native grasses that once grew abundantly in the meadows on the valley floor. Hetch Hetchy Valley was dammed and became a reservoir in 1923 to provide water for the growing city of San Francisco.
El Capitan – Spanish for “the captain.” Originally, this granite monolith in Yosemite Valley was called “Tote-ack-ah-noo-la” (possibly meaning “rock chief”) by the Ahwahneechee before it was renamed by a member of the Mariposa Battalion in 1851.
Mariposa – Spanish for “butterfly.” West of Yosemite National Park, this town was founded as a mining camp during the mid-19th-century California gold rush. Its name was first given by Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga to Mariposa Creek where he saw butterflies swarm.
Merced – Spanish for “mercy.” Named by Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga, the river’s full name is El Rio de Nuestra Se