How 20 Metro Phoenix Cities Got Their Names

What’s in a name? If you’re talking about the names of the cities and towns that make up the sprawling Phoenix area, it all depends. Some were named for founders. Others got their monikers from nearby landmarks, historical references, and even a few twists of fate.

Here's how 20 Valley incorporated communities were named:

20) Surprise

According to local lore, this city at the edge of the Northwest Valley got its name after founder Flora Mae Statler remarked that she’d “be surprised if [it] ever amounted to much.” Lots of folks were surprised that so many souls would want to live so far out in the sprawl.

19) Tolleson

Few people are aware that the small town of Tolleson, which measures a mere 5.6 square miles, even exists. Even fewer know of the fact that it was founded in 1912 by a southerner named Walter G. Tolleson. 

18) Chandler

Dr. Andrew John Chandler, a Canadian immigrant and veterinarian, earned his place in local history in the early 1900s when he helped establish the town that would forever bear his name.

17) Apache Junction

This bastion of bikers, meth heads, trailer parks, and western kitsch earned its sobriquet from its proximity to the intersection of the Apache Trail and U.S. Highway 60.

16) Peoria

Most of its original residents emigrated from Peoria, Illinois, in the 1880s and decided to name their new home after their old one. And other than all the spring training action, Peoria, Arizona, has proved to be just as boring as its namesake.

15) Avondale

Like many Valley cities, Avondale has something of a Wild West pedigree. It started life in 1880 as a stagecoach stop and settlement called Coldwater, which was built from scratch by the late William “Billy” Moore, a no-nonsense pioneer who constructed its general store and saloon and later became its justice of the peace. In 1905, Coldwater’s post office was relocated to Avondale Ranch and the area adopted the same name.

14) Mesa

Founders weren't very inventive, but the scenery wasn't lacking. “Mesa” is the Spanish word for table, and the city sits on a flattened plateau overlooking the Salt River. You know, like it’s on a table. 

13) Buckeye

The late Malin M. Jackson, an early Valley settler and a proud son of Ohio, helped design and build the Buckeye Canal in the 1860s. Years later, the farming community that sprung up nearby also became known by the same name.

12) Queen Creek

The folks down in this quaint town on the border of Maricopa and Pinal counties originally called it Rittenhouse because of a nearby railroad spur before it later officially became known as Queen Creek in 1913, thanks to its proximity to the stream of the same name.

11) Fountain Hills

This one’s a no brainer, as the tiny town is known for its ginormous fountain that sprays a towering jet of recycled toilet water every hour.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

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