How These LA Suburbs Got Their Names

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Van Nuys

The neighborhood called Van Nuys is in the central San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, northwest of downtown, directly west of Burbank, south of North Hills, and north of the Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park. The neighborhood is considered moderately diverse and contains a Hispanic population of 61%. Van Nuys Airport is the busiest general airport in the world and 25th busiest in the US.  Before becoming one of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods, the town of Van Nuys was founded in 1911 and named after Isaac Newtown Van Nuys, an American businessman and farmer/rancher who owned the entirety of the southern San Fernando Valley. Mr. Van Nuys did not found the town (and ended up dying a year later), but was remembered as a symbol of promise in land development and sale, becoming the godfather of the hardworking town, and henceforth its name.

Santa Monica

The beachfront city of Santa Monica is situated on the Santa Monica Bay west of Los Angeles, with Pacific Palisades to the north, West Los Angeles to the east, Venice to the south, and Mar Vista to the southeast. Santa Monica has a population of nearly 90,000 residents and is known as a great resort town for tourists, featuring crowd pleasers like Santa Monica Pier and its proximity to the greater Los Angeles area. The city has a long history dating back to pre-history and the Native American Tongva tribe, which called the area Kecheek. Later, Spanish settlers named the area after the Christian Saint Monica (Monica of Hippo) in August of 1769. There are two theories or legends that surround the naming, however: the first being that it was named after the Feast Day of Saint Monica on May 4th, and the other being that one of the holy men of the expedition saw the beauty of Serra Springs and thought of the anecdote of Saint Monica shedding tears over her son. Either way, Saint Monica is Santa Monica’s namesake and continues to have a historical and cultural imprint on the area to this day.

Manhattan Beach

The city of Manhattan Beach is southwest of Los Angeles and north of Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach is known for being one of the most expensive zip codes in the country, and with the beautiful beachfront right outside your day, it’s no surprise. What may surprise you is how the city’s name came to be. The history of the area is quite the headache in terms of early land development purchases and deals, but where it really gets interesting is with a land developer Stewart Merill. Merill’s home on the east coast was in the New York City borough of Manhattan. So upon purchasing a portion of land in this area before a name was in place, he threw the name Manhattan in the ring. Then it came down to a literal coin flip and in 1902, the coastal Californian city of Manhattan was born. It wasn’t until 1927 when “Beach” was added, much to the delight of the city’s postmaster.


Lights. Camera. ACTION! The neighborhood known for the film industry and its stars’ beautiful homes is in the central region of the Los Angeles area and was incorporated in 1903 (then being consolidated into the city seven years later). But have you ever wondered where the origin of the illustrious Hollywood sign came from? In 1886, a man named H.J. Whitley, a real-estate developer and the eventual “Father of Hollywood”, was on his honeymoon. He stood out atop the (eventual) Hollywood Hills, taking in the beautiful view of the pre-1900 valley, where he planned to buy some land. A Chinese man came by him in a wagon hauling wood. Because the man’s accent was so thick, “hauling wood” sounded like “ I holly wood” to Whitley, where he then associated his heritages with what would soon be the name—English representing “Holly” and Scotland representing “Wood”. Having already started several towns across the United States, Hollywood became his most famous, because by 1912 major motion-picture companies had set up in and around the area, giving birth to Hollywood Cinema!


While much of the history of this city in south western Los Angeles Country is surrounded by racial tension and the mistreatment of varying cultures, the origin of its name is a much lighter affair. The city was originally founded by businessmen B.L. Harding and H.D. Lombard, where the former’s daughter shared her birthday (July 4th) with writer Nathanial Hawthorne (of ‘Scarlet Letter’ fame). When this information was discovered, it was decided to name the city after him and was known in 1905 as the “Hawthorne Improvement Company” and for obvious reasons, eventually became Hawthorne.


The city of Compton has a total population of about 96,000 people and is known as the “Hub City” because of its location at the heart of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Compton’s population is made up of working and middle-class people and it is an incredibly young city (avg. 25 years of age) compared to the median age (35 years of age) of the United States. After the Mexican-American War, a majority of the land in this area was given to American immigrants 1948. About twenty years later, a man named Griffith Dickerson Compton led a group of pioneers by wagon train from Stockton (outside of San Francisco) to search for a place where they could make a living that didn’t involve mining for gold during the California Gold Rush. Much like many early settlements, they faced hardships, especially farming in bleak conditions. It was originally called Gibsonsonville after one of the tract owners but then changed to Comptonville after G.D. Compton. To avoid confusion with another Comptonville in Yuba County, the town was then shortened to Compton, as which it stands proudly to this very day.

Some interesting facts and stories behind many of our hometowns, aren’t they? If your suburb wasn’t on the list, I implore you to do a little bit of digging yourself—you never know what else you might learn about the Golden State.

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