They've become such basic points on our collective map that it's odd to think the names of the cities, towns and places in Kern County actually mean something. A history of Kern's place names:
The town established in 1910 was named for Arvin Richardson, a storekeeper there who later became prominent in community affairs and president of a water company.
The county seat of Kern takes its name from the hospitable field of Col. Thomas Baker that was used to rest and feed horses of travelers.
So called for the profusion of bear that once inhabited its slopes. The same reason may be pointed out for Bear Creek, Bear Canyon and Bear Spring, all in Kern.
Named for George Homer Bodfish, an early mining pioneer who came to the area in the 1860s.
Formerly known as Amargo, was renamed in 1938 when the Pacific Coast Borax Company moved its operations here.
Named by southerners living in Kern County for John C. Breckenridge, who was the Democratic candidate for president in 1860.
Caliente (town, creek, canyon)
Takes its name from the nearby hot springs that were well known to the stockmen and Indians that used the small settlement for trading and social purposes after its establishment in 1872. The creek and canyon take their names from the hot springs.
The word in Spanish means “steep rock,” but old timers insist the name of this desert place where the Nevada and California Railroad extended its line from Owens Lake to Mojave is due to the engineer who did the work and was fond of names beginning with C.
Named by the Southern Pacific Railroad in honor of Columbus Delano, at the time the U.S. Interior secretary.
Democrat Hot Springs
Named in honor of a favorite political party in these parts.
Named after the substation established by the Southern California Edison Co. here in 1905.
Edwards Air Force Base
Formerly Muroc Army Air Base, was named for Capt. Glenn W. Edwards, pilot of the experimental “flying wing” craft that crashed at Muroc during a test flight. Edwards died in the accident.
The Sunset Western Railroad, which built the railroad line on the westside linking the stations with Bakersfield and Taft, named this station for Charles A. Fellows, a building contractor.
Frazier Park, Mountain
Named by Harry McBain for nearby Frazier Mountain. The mountain was named for Warren Frazier, a market hunter of the 1870s who operated the Frazier gold mine in the area.
Named in honor of James Madison Glenn, an early settler.
Asbury Harpending, a noted adventurer and associate of moguls of finance in early San Francisco, founded and named Havilah while on the dodge from federal authorities because of some difficulty over his sympathetic attitude toward the Confederacy. He said in his biography he drew the name from a passage in Genesis that described Havilah as a “land of much gold.”
This community, whose site is now covered by Isabella Lake, was named for the queen whose treasury financed the expedition of Christopher Columbus. Founder Stephen Barton gave the town its name.
There are two versions of how the name came about. One that the canyon’s general shape suggests that of a jawbone, the other that it came from the finding of a prehistoric animal’s jawbone there.
In keeping with the tendency to name everything in the Rand mining district for places in the Witwatersrand mining area of South Africa, to which the Kern area was compared after the richness of its mineral deposits were discovered, Chauncey M. Depew and his associates named this settlement after the well-known South African mining place.
First a mining camp established in 1863 as Williamsburg. Known as Whiskey Flat after a saloon. Name changed to Kernville in 1864. In 1951 a new town of Kernville was laid out several miles north; Old Kernville was inundated by the waters of Isabella Lake after completion of Isabella Dam in 1953.
The first town in Kern County took its name from Richard Keys, who found gold in a nearby gulch and set off the fabulous gold rush to the Kern River country in 1853.
Named by Arthur S. McFadden, who named it after the Scottish clan to which his family belonged.
Named after Peter Lebeck or Lebecque, a French trapper killed by a bear there in 1837.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad extended its spur track south from Sunset, the new terminal was called Maricopa, possibly because the valley in which Maricopa is situated was once called Maricopa Valley.
Named for J.B. McFarland, who with W.F. Laird established the townsite in 1908.
Earlier known as Asphalto because of the asphalt deposits in the vicinity, the station was renamed McKittrick for Capt. W. H. McKittrick, who owned the land. McKittrick was also the owner of the famed McKittrick Ranch, where polo ponies were reared and trained, and the son-in-law of Gen. William Shafter.
The Southern Pacific gave the town its name when the railroad reached it in 1876, presumably because it was on the edge of the great desert bearing the name. The name itself is derived from an Indian tribe of the Yuma region and has many variations in print.
Oildale, Oil City, Oil Junction, Oil Center and other similar names reflect the influence of the oil boom in Kern County.
Known for many years as Scodie’s after William Scodie, who owned the store there, the place was renamed Onyx by Scodie when the post office objected to the earlier name because of its resemblance to Scotia, some 400 miles away.
In 1932 a local barber had the name placed on his shop by a traveling sign painter. A crop of pumpkins had been grown nearby that year.
Randsburg, a rich mining camp, was named after the Witwatersrand mining district in South Africa, the topography of which is similar to that of the Rand district in Kern County.
It was originally called Crumville and named for Robert and James Crum, who ran a dairy. It was renamed in 1914.
Was named after the daughter of a Southern Pacific official.
Kern County Land Co. President Henry Jastro named Shafter after his friend General William Rufus Shafter, who commanded U.S. forces in Cuba during the Spanish–American War.
Was named for the 27th president of the United States.
The most common belief today is that the word derives from the Kawaiisu word “Tihachipia,” meaning a hard climb.
Was originally named “Dewey” and then “Deweyville.” When William Bonham, a settler from Wasco County in Oregon, determined there was a town already named “Deweyville,” he proposed the area be renamed “Wasco,” and in 1900 the post office recorded the town name as such. Wasco is a tribe of Oregon Indians.
Named for William Weldon, an early settler in Walker Basin.
Named for L.L. Wofford, who established the site in 1948.
Named for Sparrell Walter Woody, a pioneer rancher of the area.
SOURCES: TBC Media archives, city of Delano, city of Wasco, Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society, Kern County Place Names by Richard C. Bailey
This first appeared in a Californian special publication, "The story of us," Aug. 6, 2016.