FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The Central Valley is full of unique locations – and their names only add to the sense of intrigue. From Merced to the north, Fresno in the middle, and Porterville to the south – how did these locations get their names?

The places chosen are those with a population over 60,000 as established by the U.S. Census. Going from north to south, we start with Merced.


The name Merced has a Spanish origin. According to the Merced Chamber, the name comes from the Merced River – which was originally named “El Rio de Nuestra Senora de la Mercedes.” The English translation of that river’s name comes out to River of Our Lady of Mercy. The name Merced stems from there. also states that the last name “Merced” comes from the same origin: the short form of the name María De La Merced.


The name Madera, according to the California State Association of Counties, comes from the Spanish word for wood. The town became known as Madera after the California Lumber Company built a flume to carry the wood to the railroad in the area in the late 1800s.


Fresno is the largest city in the region with around 500,000 residents. Like Merced and Madera, the city’s name also derives from the Spanish language. According to Visit Fresno County, the name Fresno translates to “ash tree” in Spanish (and the ash tree is also on the city flag). The inspiration apparently came from the large number of ash trees that ran along the side of the San Joaquin river what is now Fresno County.


The name Clovis does not derive from a Spanish-language word, but instead is the first name of the man who sold land which would go on to start the city. Clovis M. Cole bought land in 1880 to raise grain for feed and seed. Cole sold most of the land to make way for the new railroad and depot to enable locally grown grains to be shipped out of the Central Valley. When the city was founded it was named after Clovis Cole.


Visalia’s name links back to one of its first settlers: Nathaniel Vise. The name comes from Vise’s ancestral home of Visalia, Kentucky, where Vise originally came from. Vise also owned a restaurant in San Francisco where he advertised as “Nat Vise, alias The Bear Hunter.”


Tulare is named for Tulare Lake, once one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Great Lakes (the lake was later drained for agriculture development). The name Tulare stems from the plant tule (schoenoplectus acutus) that once lined the shores of the Tulare Lake.


Porterville’s name comes from Royal Porter Putman, who arrived in the area in 1860 to raise cattle, horses and hogs. He purchased 40 acres of land and went on to own a store and a train depot. He named both after himself – but used his middle name, hence Porter’s Station and Porter’s Trading Post. He was instrumental in the design of the city, leading to the community being called “Portersville.” However, maps from 1900 onwards have removed the “s” and refer to the city as Porterville.