Insiders Note: These few humorous paragraphs are representative of a larger publication penned by former San Diego Sun reporter Max Miller, the author of the 1932 national best seller I Cover The Waterfront, and 18 other titles published before Funny Name was printed in 1947. Miller passed in La Jolla in December, 1967 at the age of 68.
When mentioning this small town I am not referring to San Diego. For San Diego has outgrown its diapers and is a city now. But I am referring to La Jolla, which, although technically a part of San Diego, is nevertheless its own community and always has been.
There are some who say the place reminds them of the Riviera. They will say this over and over as if to impress us. Or, they may go more general and say it is just like living “someplace on the Mediterranean, don’t you think so?”
Yet I have never learned what our answers are supposed to be to this kind of remark, whether we are supposed to start an argument or agree, I feel flattered.
Unlike so many other places too, even places in California, this little town has no traditions; that is, traditions measured in terms of a century or so. Or another way of wording it could be that the traditions of this little town are just beginning, and may not come to a head until fifty years from now, if they do come to a head. Nobody knows, insomuch as traditions or influences or even future memories are beyond anyone’s ability to predict.
Yet as for present traditions, there certainly are no ancient cathedrals in this little town, or any old missions, or
old forts, and for that matter no old battle grounds which “changed history.”
And so we of this little town are just here is all, living our days by the sea, and we have not been a part of “history.”
Now the City of San Diego may be slightly different in some of these respects. At least of lot of history and pamphlets are written about it: the old Spaniards, Father Serra, the first California mission, the First Palm planted in California, “The Plymouth Rock of the West Coast,” all such flourishes as that.
But we of nearby La Jolla do not really know what our own name actually means, other that it obviously is not that of a saint.
The poetically minded say that La Jolla in Spanish means “the jewel,” but it does not mean “the jewel” in Spanish. Others say that La Jolla is a misspelled Indian word meaning “the hole,” and refers, so they say, to our valley-like indenture between our mesa and our shore. But this interpretation is wide open for argument as to, and especially since our aborigines around here were as stupid and lazy as could be found on the continent and did not really have a true language, or much of anything else, and did not care to be bothered. Grunts were sufficient for a vocabulary the same as lizards or grasshoppers were sufficient for a meal, and so the aborigines would have been the most surprised of all possibly to have known that La Jolla was now being credited to them.
Anyhow, the meaning or the non-meaning of the name really makes no difference so long as there are at least a few people besides ourselves who know how to pronounce it as it is pronounced today. Or so long as there are a few people besides ourselves who do not think we are joking when we try to put through a long-distance call home from somewhere else. Or who not repeat to us here, as if brand-new, all the accumulated stories which have been going on for years now about travellers struggling over the “J” as a “Y,” and finally ending up by calling La Jolla something else maybe San Luis Obispo or San Luis Capistrano, and that they visited here during the months of “hoon and hoo-lye,” and out of politeness we have to laugh very much each time.
Yet all of this is part of living here, and we must take it along with the winter salt spray on our windows. And we must accept the fact too that novelists, in writing about Carmel or Monterey or similar towns in the comparative far north of us, towns with a “background,” do not have to include that familiar phrase “the name of the town is purely fictitious.” The novelists can come right out and say Carmel is Carmel, or Monterey is Monterey. The same as San Francisco. But in regard to fiction about La Jolla – ah, no, not yet. It had better be called some other place, and I often wonder why.
For, after all, we do have our own post office. We are legal.