What’s in a nickname? How Pasadena California is known to locals and the world

pasadena-city-logoby Laura Berthold Monteros

The Tournament of Roses Parade is watched in-person by hundreds of thousands, and the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game are seen on television and over the internet by tens of millions of people around the world. For many, it wouldn’t be New Year’s without America’s New Year Celebration.

The City of Pasadena, incorporated in 1886 by a group of well-to-do folks from the Midwest, has been hosting the Tournament of Roses since 1890.  It was originally a way to show off the lovely climate in Southern California to people suffering through winter snows, and was perhaps as much a real estate venture as a celebration. Its popularity over the decades has caused many to refer to Pasadena as “The City of Roses” or even “Rose City.” Numerous businesses are named “Rose City” this or that—veterinarians, pediatricians, dentists, counselors, contractors, even a laundromat and a high school. But folks who drive around a bit are likely to see more signs with the moniker “Crown City.”

This is because the true City of Roses is Portland, Oregon, which boasts an ideal climate for growing roses and holds its own Rose Festival in June. Pasadena, California, is “The Crown City.”  The name is ubiquitous around town, and yep, there are veterinarians, pediatricians, dentists, counselors, and contractors as well. There are also, in our random and small sampling, Crown City Symphony and several businesses having to do with cars.

So how did a city whose residents put on the world-renowned Tournament of Roses, including the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, get such an unlikely nickname? Well, Crown City is a misnomer as well. The founding families first called the area the “Indiana Colony” after their roots.  When a post office was desired in the community, the colony needed to come up with a name acceptable to the Postmaster General. “Indianola” and “Granada” were suggested, but what won out was the proposal to name the city in the Chippewa language. A few suggestions were sent off to a missionary in Michigan for translation. They were “Crown of the Valley,” “Key of the Valley,” “Valley of the Valley,” and “Hill of the Valley.”

Now, if one considers that the Chippewa were from the upper Midwest, not Indiana, and the Native Americans in Pasadena were Tongva with a different language and culture, this seems to be a strange juxtaposition. However, tossing history, geography, and culture out the window, the founders decided that since all the translations came back with “Pasadena” (supposedly but probably not “of the valley”) at the end and it had a certain euphony, that’s what was chosen and the nickname was extrapolated. It’s often mispronounced “pah-sah-day-nah” by folks who think it is Spanish, but it’s “pass-a-dee-nah.”

So now, when you stand along Colorado Blvd. to watch the Rose Parade or tune into the Rose Bowl game on TV, you can impress all your buddies with your knowledge about The City of… uh, The Crown City.