YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

WHO DECIDED . . . ? : . . . to Name Poway Poway? And why?

December 25, 1985|MIKE GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO History is a fickle beast.

Almost always open to conjecture, it rarely passes up the chance to avoid controversy--especially where legends are concerned. History can be kind--or incredibly, indelibly mean. It can give credit to true believers, and deservers. Or break the reputation of those who merit a far better kiss of fate.

San Diego is no different from any city as far as lore is concerned. Who gets credit for the legends of "America's Finest City"? Is it a pioneer, a clear thinker, a creative soul, a hard worker with a heart in the right place? Or is it someone who happened along at just the right time to inherit a priceless bit of folklore that he or she can cling to forevermore?

How often have you wondered who decided this or that about San Diego? Or any place you've lived? Is credit in the right hands, right name, right place? Does it matter? Did it ever?

How has who decided the important decisions about your town changed or affected your life, your daily motion? What about the not-so-important decisions, the obvious you never knew existed?

Examining "who decided" is like taking a look at how fate and time shape a city, at how who gets the credit may not always be the truest telling of what really happened.

Or why . . .

Who cares, you say. Well, plenty of people in Poway, Paguay, Panii, Paui, Powi and Pawaii--however the hell it's spelled--may want to know.

You see, there's been confusion through the years about how to spell the name, pronounce it or figure out where it came from.

Eleanor and Earl Rawlings of the Poway Historical Society, kind souls that they are, say the U.S. postmaster general decided on the official spelling of "Poway" in 1879. What did he know, you ask. Well, maybe nothing. Legend offers all sorts of crude variations.

OK, the origin of the name is American Indian, right? That much, any dim-witted linguist can figure out. It was thought to mean "a meeting of the valleys." If you've ever been backed up in traffic heading home from Julian, you understand the derivation.

The name was pronounced Pow-Why by the San Diegueno Indians--not a franchise in the United States Football League, but an actual tribe of Indians who lived in the Poway Valley a long, long time ago.

They and the Luisenos Indians tossed around several spellings, among them those listed above. Believe it or not, Earl Rawlings says 21 other spellings also existed. That's right, 21!

Rawlings says the Luisenos also offered another meaning for the word. (These tribes couldn't agree on anything.) They called Poway, Pow-Why or however else they spelled it "a place of sorrow."

Many of those who live there now agree with this meaning.

Los Angeles Times Articles