Did you know that the weternmost point of the contiguous 48 US states is called Cape Alava, and was named after a Basque, José Manuel de Alava, who was born in 1843 in Vitoria-Gasteiz? It’s in Clallam County, Washington, and forms the western terminus of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. It was named after Alava in 1794 for his role as commissioner during discussions leading to the Nootka Sound Conventions, agreements between Great Britain and Spain that averted a war between the two empires over overlapping claims to parts of the Pacific Northwest in the 1790s.
What appears less open to question is the Basque connection when it comes to the name Durango, whether in Colorado, Iowa, or Texas, even if it did come via a town of the same name in Mexico, since the Mexican town derives its name from Durango, Bizkaia. Nor is there any doubt as regards Port aux Basques, the oldest of the collection of towns that make up the present-day Channel-Port aux Basques in Newfoundland, Canada. Similarly, Key Biscayne, an island in Miami-Dade County, Florida, owes its name, reputedly, to the fact that a “Biscayan” (which at that time meant a Basque) had lived on the lower east coast of Florida for a while after being shipwrecked. What’s more, a seventeenth-century map shows the place name Cayo de Biscainhos, the probable origin of today’s Key Biscayne.
Other place names with some Basque connections include the following (in a by no means definitive list):
- Anza, Riverside Co., CA (named after explorer Juan Bautista de Anza)
- The Les Basques regional county municipality in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec, Canada
- Navarre, Santa Rosa Co., FL
- St. Ignace, Mackinac Co., MI (after the Basque Saint Ignatius of Loiola/Loyola)
- St. Xavier, Big Horn Co., MT (after the Basque Saint Francis Xabier/Xavier)
- Uvalde, TX (a corruption of Ugalde, the Basque last name of a Spanish governor at that time).
Moreover, the name of Bayonne, Hudson Co., NJ, seems to be connected to Bayonne (in Basque, Baiona) in Lapurdi, although there is some disagreement as to whether this is actually the case. And Jean Lafitte, in Jefferson Parish, LA, is named after a famous privateer who was possibly born in Biarritz, Lapurdi.
Do you know of any more Basque-related place names in North America?