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Why Is Los Angeles Called the "City of Angels"?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 17, 2024
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As with much of the American southwest, the area surrounding what is now Los Angeles once belonged to Spain. Officially settled in 1781, the original name of what is now Los Angeles was El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, or "The Town of the Queen of Angels" in Spanish. The pueblo eventually became a ciudad, or city, which made Los Angeles the City of Angels. The name has been with the it ever since.

Originally home to Native American tribes, the first Europeans passed through Los Angeles during the 16th century when an expedition sent by the viceroy of New Spain originally staked claim to the area in what is now southern California for the Spanish empire. It was not until 200 years later that the city was actually settled, however, when the new governor of California, Felipe de Neve, sent a group known as Los Pobladores, the settlers, to search for areas that might be suitable for settlement. Los Pobladores were a group of 12 families from the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinoloa. Upon their recommendation, the governor ordered that the area now known as Los Angeles be settled into a pueblo, or town.

The pueblo was named El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles because of its proximity to the river by the same name — El Rio de Nuestro Senora La Reina de Los Angeles, or The River of Our Lady the Queen of Angels. There is some controversy as to whether the original name of both the river and the town also included de Porciuncula, after a small Italian church. Common belief appears to be that the words were originally part of the name; however, scholars appear to disagree.

Regardless of whether or not the name originally included this element, it appears as though both the city and the river of angels were named in honor of the shrine, found on the plain below Assisi in Italy to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria degli Angeli — otherwise known as "Our Lady of the Angels." It was not uncommon, at the time, to name new settlements, or conquests, after prominent religious or political figures. Eventually, the area grew and became the City of Los Angeles in 1850. From that point on, the city has frequently been referred to as the "City of Angels."

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Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By anon340285 — On Jul 01, 2013

It was late spring when they first came upon what is now the river that is now bearing this name. Native California fan palms (the only native palms in CA) were only found along rivers at that time and they were elevated above the thick marine layer which reminded the Spanish settlers of the image of Mary with the angels, hence evoking the name.

By literally45 — On Aug 28, 2012

I'm a history buff and I remember reading about the Spanish arrival in California. As far as I know, a priest was heading the expedition. When they arrived in what is today Los Angeles, they decided to call it the city of Angels. The reason was because some kind of a celebration or feast was held on that day every year in honor of the Lady of Angels.

I think this is the most logical explanation out of all the ones I've heard. It makes sense that they would want to give the town/city a name that would remind people of the day it was founded. And that day was the day of the Lady of Angels.

By ZipLine — On Aug 28, 2012

@donasmrs-- I had completely forgotten about the City of Angels soundtrack until you just reminded me. I was in High School when that track came out. Did you know that the actual name of the song is "Under the Bridge?" But everyone calls it "City of Angels" because it's about Los Angeles.

It's funny you mentioned the crime in LA. So much for being the City of Angels huh?

I'm actually surprised that the original name was "El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles." It's so long! I cannot imagine how we would have pronounced it if the name had stayed like that.

By donasmrs — On Aug 27, 2012
This is interesting. Despite having been to Los Angeles three times to visit relatives there, I never bothered to ask about this. I was thinking that "angels" is referring to the people of Los Angeles. But guess the name was given in recognition of St. Mary who was know as the "Lady of Angels" or "Queen of Angels."

It's kind of ironic now because there is a lot of crime in Los Angeles from what I know. My brother and his wife live there and they're always complaining about the crime. Plus, Los Angeles is also the city that never sleeps. There is a lot of night life and there are a lot of people there so crime is bound to happen.

Oh and there is also a Red Hot Chili Peppers song: City of Angels. I actually love that song.

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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