Orange County got its name not from the abundance of oranges that would be grown here but rather from a public-relations ploy to convince prospective land buyers that this was an exotic place in which to live.
When the name was first proposed on Jan. 3, 1872, only a few orange seedlings had been planted in the county, and they were mainly curiosities. There were no orange groves--nor was there a city of Orange.
In 1872, grapes ruled as the cash crop of the area that would become Orange County. Anaheim was the center of the region's wine industry, and it was in that city that the movement for county independence began. Consequently, the first bill calling for an entity independent from Los Angeles-- introduced in the Legislature in 1870-- proposed the name "Anaheim County."
That bill failed, and a couple of years later, there was another attempt to secede from Los Angeles County. Two meetings were held in Gallatin (now the city of Downey)--one on Dec. 20, 1871, the other on Jan. 3, 1872. At the Dec. 20 meeting, the new entity was still to be called "Anaheim County." But on Jan. 3, the delegates decided to change the name to "Orange County."
Because no minutes from the Jan. 3 meeting have been found, historians can only guess at who made the historic motion to change the name--and why.
In his 1902 "Historical and Biographical Record of Southern California," J. M. Guinn said that "Orange County" was proposed because the committee members felt "immigrants would be attracted by the name." Other historians agree that the name with the Mediterranean flavor was adopted to bring more people to the Santa Ana Valley.
Newspapers in the early 1870s provided some clues as to the person most likely to have come up with the new name. Circumstantial evidence points to William R. Olden, an Anaheim resident who was the land agent (i.e. real estate salesman) for the vast Stearns Ranchos in the 1870s. Olden wrote voluminous letters to newspapers of the time. In the Dec. 10, 1871, edition of the Anaheim-based newspaper, the Southern Californian, Olden wrote a Declaration of Independence-like letter detailing why a new county needed to be formed from the southern third of Los Angeles County. In later letters to the same newspaper, Olden waxed eloquent, even into the realm of fiction, about the fertility of the Santa Ana Valley land.
Was Olden the author of the name "Orange County"?
Here are the facts: Olden strongly favored a new, separate county. He had a flair for public-relations techniques. He touted oranges as a boom crop years before they indeed became a bonanza. And he was a delegate at the Jan. 3, 1872, meeting where the proposed name was unexpectedly changed to "Orange County."
So it's fairly safe to assume that it was Olden who rose in that committee room 116 years ago and suggested, "Why not call it Orange County?"