How do cities acquire their names?
The reasons are usually as varied as the residents who live there, but behind every name exists a story.
And no matter how dubious the history behind a particular name might be, the story eventually ends up weaving itself into a city's identity.
So in honor of the Arizona Centennial, we will explore the etymology behind some of Yuma County's cities and towns.
The genesis of Yuma's name extends to the 16th-century when the first European, Hernando de Alarcon, passed through the area during his unsuccessful attempt to deliver supplies to the Coronado Expedition.
According to city historian Tina Clark, in 1540, when the Spanish stood where the St. Thomas Mission is today and looked over the Colorado River Valley, they saw smoke billowing into the sky from hundreds of Native American cooking sites.
“The Spaniards saw all that smoke spread across this beautiful valley and they called it ‘umo',” Clark said. “Which is the Spanish word for smoke.”
Shortly thereafter, the local Indian tribe became known as the Umo Indians.
Once English-speakers started arriving in the Southwest, the word “umo” was slowly transformed into “yuma.”
As for the actual town, it was first called Colorado City when it was officially certified in San Francisco in 1854.
Over the next two decades, the town would change names three times until Yuma was finally settled upon for good on Feb. 3, 1873.
Other towns in the area may lack a history as extensive as Yuma's, but they nevertheless contain a story.
In Wellton's case, its name came courtesy of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Yuma was a thriving agricultural area at the end of the 19th century, so it was a natural place to construct a railroad. In order to supply water to the steam engines, large wells were dug east of the Gila Mountains.
“At the time, the area was a well stop along the Southern Pacific rail line,” said Wellton Deputy Clerk Becky Hopkins. “As a town grew around this well stop, it became known as Well Town. And at some point, the name was eventually shortened.”
For Somerton, its name derived from one of the founder's hometown.
In 1898, farmers who lived in the area 10 miles south of Yuma decided to create a town to provide facilities to potential residents, according to the book “Arizona's Names.”
They selected a site on the Algodones Land Grant and decided on the name Somerton on the suggestion of Capt. A.D. Yocum, who wanted it named after his hometown. Yocum's home state could not be located in any historical record.
As for San Luis, no official or anecdotal histories were found concerning the origins of its name.