How 20 Metro Phoenix Cities Got Their Names

Downtown Pumpkinville Phoenix at night.EXPAND
Downtown Pumpkinville Phoenix at night.

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 Others got their monikers from nearby landmarks, historical references, and even a few twists of fate.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:

Surprise City HallEXPAND
Surprise City Hall
Imagini Venske

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.

A mural in Tolleson, which one person described as "prolly the best thing 'bout the whole city."EXPAND
A mural in Tolleson, which one person described as "prolly the best thing 'bout the whole city."

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. 

The coolest building in all of Chandler.EXPAND
The coolest building in all of Chandler.

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.

AJ's unofficial slogan: "Desert rats, cowpokes, and hawg heads welcome."
AJ's unofficial slogan: "Desert rats, cowpokes, and hawg heads welcome."

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.

Where all the action happens in Peoria.EXPAND
Where all the action happens in Peoria.

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.

The exit sign for Avondale Boulevard off Interstate 10.EXPAND
The exit sign for Avondale Boulevard off Interstate 10.

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.

Main Street in downtown Mesa.EXPAND
Main Street in downtown Mesa.

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. 

The famed Hobo Joe statue in Buckeye.
The famed Hobo Joe statue in Buckeye.

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.

Y'all come back now, ya hear?EXPAND
Y'all come back now, ya hear?

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.

The namesake of Fountain Hills.EXPAND
The namesake of Fountain Hills.

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.

 

The bucolic beauty of Gilbert.EXPAND
The bucolic beauty of Gilbert.

10) Gilbert

Dapper land baron William Michael Gilbert got even richer when the Eastern Railroad Company paid him a tidy sum in 1902 for access to his 160-acre parcel in the Southeast Valley. They even named a station in his honor, around which the town of Gilbert was born.

Murphy Park in Glendale.
Murphy Park in Glendale.

9) Glendale

It’s sort of a mystery why Glendale’s founder, William John Murphy, chose to name it this way in the 1880s. Seriously. No one has the foggiest idea why the famed businessman and land developer picked it. Probably just something off the top of it his head.

Carefree's famous sundial.
Carefree's famous sundial.

8) Carefree

If you were a pair of well-to-do real estate developers like K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington, who built this high-end master-planned community aimed at those rich enough to not have any worries, you’d probably call it Carefree as well.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Guadalupe.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Guadalupe.

7) Guadalupe

The largely Hispanic and Yaqui Indian (and, thus, largely Catholic) population of this diminutive East Valley suburb has revered the saintly Virgin of Guadalupe since its origins in the early 1900s. Hence, the place was named after her.

Home of the rich and famous.
Home of the rich and famous.

6) Paradise Valley

Considering all its gorgeous scenery and stunning views, it's no surprise that the area north of Camelback Mountain was dubbed Paradise Valley by surveyors from the Rio Verde Canal Company in 1889.

The quaint and kitschy Frontier Town in Cave Creek.
The quaint and kitschy Frontier Town in Cave Creek.

5) Cave Creek

This folksy hamlet in the far reaches of the Northeast Valley got its moniker from the stream-like Cave Creek that flows through the area. Grizzled prospector Edward G. Cave, better known as “Old Rackensack,” who famously worked that area, probably also had something to do with it.

Welcome to Goodyear.EXPAND
Welcome to Goodyear.

4) Goodyear

Goodyear originally was referred to as “Egypt” back in the early 1900s, because of all the Egyptian cotton grown there. Everyone came to their senses, however, and renamed it in honor of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which had scooped up loads of farmland in 1917 to harvest the cotton for its tires, built an aircraft factory in 1941, and more or less owned the community for decades. 

Scottsdale, also known as the “West's Most Western Town."EXPAND
Scottsdale, also known as the “West's Most Western Town."

3) Scottsdale

Here’s some irony: The ritziest and most sinful ('cause of its nightlife hub) Valley city was started by a salt-of-the-earth preacher man. In 1888, Army chaplain and Baptist minister Winfield Scott was the first to settle in the area now known as Scottsdale after buying 640 acres to start a farm.

An aerial view of downtown Tempe.
An aerial view of downtown Tempe.

2) Tempe

Tempe owes its name to the book smarts of the late Darrell Duppa, a British-born scholar and world traveler who came to the Valley in 1867 as a pioneer and helped influence the area’s history. Because of the proximity of the towering Hayden Butte next to the then-flowing and verdant Salt River, Duppa thought the place resembled the gorgeous Vale of Tempe in Greece. If he were alive today, however, he could've called it the Vale of Ugly Buildings.

Downtown Phoenix circa 1940.
Downtown Phoenix circa 1940.

1) Phoenix

And if it weren’t for the same genteel Englishman and bon vivant, the Valley's hub might’ve been called Pumpkinville. No, really. As the story goes, a group of founders met in 1868 to decide what to call the fledgling settlement, and the possibilities included Salina, Stonewall, and yes, Pumpkinville. Darrell Duppa happened to be in attendance and suggested that the community’s emergence from the former home to the Hohokam was akin to the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes. Thankfully, they went with that.


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