What Does ‘San’ Mean In San Francisco?

If you’ve ever wondered about the meaning behind San Francisco’s name, you’re not alone. The city’s name can seem a bit mysterious, especially that ‘San’ part. Read on to uncover the history and significance behind this charming city’s iconic moniker.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: ‘San’ comes from ‘San Francisco,’ Spanish for Saint Francis, the city’s namesake. It pays homage to the founder of the Franciscan Order.

A Bit of History Behind ‘San Francisco’

San Francisco, one of the most iconic cities in the United States, has a rich history that dates back centuries. The name ‘San Francisco’ itself holds significant meaning and is deeply rooted in the city’s past.

To truly understand the origin of the name, we must delve into the history of the area and its connections to Saint Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order, as well as the establishment of Mission San Francisco.

Saint Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order

Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar who lived in the 13th century. He is widely known for his love of nature, animals, and his commitment to helping the poor and marginalized. The Franciscan Order, founded by Saint Francis, followed his teachings and principles, seeking to lead a life of simplicity, poverty, and service to others.

The connection between Saint Francis and San Francisco lies in the city’s name. ‘San Francisco’ is the Spanish translation of ‘Saint Francis,’ paying homage to the Catholic saint and his ideals. The choice of this name reflects the early Spanish influence in the region and the desire to honor a figure revered for his compassion and humility.

The Founding of Mission San Francisco

In 1776, Spanish colonizers established the Mission San Francisco de Asís, also known as Mission Dolores, in what is now the heart of San Francisco. The mission was intended to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism and serve as a center for religious and agricultural activities.

It played a significant role in the development of the city and its culture.

Mission San Francisco’s presence and influence further solidified the connection to Saint Francis of Assisi. The mission was named in his honor, emphasizing the city’s ties to the Catholic faith and the Franciscan Order.

The Origins of the City’s Name

While the name ‘San Francisco’ directly refers to Saint Francis of Assisi, it is worth noting that the city underwent a series of name changes before settling on its current one. Initially, it was named Yerba Buena, a Spanish phrase meaning ‘good herb,’ derived from the local plant life.

However, in 1847, during the California Gold Rush, the name was changed to San Francisco to reflect the growing influence and international recognition of the city. The name change also aimed to align the city’s identity more closely with its historical roots and the Spanish colonial heritage.

Today, San Francisco stands as a vibrant and diverse city, with its name serving as a constant reminder of the values and history that have shaped its identity. The connection to Saint Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order, as well as the establishment of Mission San Francisco, contribute to the city’s unique character and cultural heritage.

What Does ‘San’ Mean?

The word ‘San’ in San Francisco is derived from the Spanish language. In Spanish, ‘San’ is a prefix that means ‘saint’ or ‘holy.’ It is commonly used as a title before the name of a saint or a place associated with a saint.

In the case of San Francisco, ‘San’ is used to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The city was named after him by Spanish explorers who arrived in the area in the 18th century.

Definition and Translation

As mentioned earlier, ‘San’ is a Spanish word that means ‘saint’ or ‘holy.’ It is commonly used in Spanish-speaking countries as a title before the name of a saint or a holy place. For example, ‘San Juan’ means ‘Saint John,’ ‘San Miguel’ means ‘Saint Michael,’ and ‘San Diego’ means ‘Saint James.’

In the context of San Francisco, ‘San’ is specifically used to honor Saint Francis of Assisi. The full name ‘San Francisco’ translates to ‘Saint Francis’ in English. This naming convention is often seen in various cities, towns, and landmarks around the world that have Spanish influences or historical connections.

Use in Other Californian Place Names

‘San’ is a common prefix in many place names throughout California. This is because California has a rich Spanish heritage, as it was once a Spanish colony. Here are some examples of other Californian place names that start with ‘San’:

  • San Diego
  • San Jose
  • San Bernardino
  • San Luis Obispo
  • San Clemente

These cities and towns were named after saints or holy figures, showcasing the Spanish influence on the region’s history and culture. The use of ‘San’ in these place names not only pays homage to the Catholic faith but also reflects the historical ties between California and Spain.

For more information on the history and etymology of San Francisco’s name, you can visit the San Francisco Travel website.

The Significance of ‘San’ in San Francisco

Connection to the City’s History and Values

The word ‘San’ in San Francisco holds deep historical and cultural significance. It is derived from the Spanish language, which pays homage to the city’s Spanish colonial past. The name ‘San Francisco’ translates to ‘Saint Francis’ in English, with ‘San’ meaning ‘saint’ or ‘holy’ in Spanish.

This reference to Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, reflects the city’s values of compassion, harmony with nature, and strong sense of community.

San Francisco was founded in 1776 by Spanish colonizers, who named the city after the nearby Mission San Francisco de Asís. The mission was one of a series of religious outposts established by the Spanish in California.

The presence of the ‘San’ in San Francisco is a reminder of this rich history and the cultural heritage of the city.

The use of ‘San’ in the name also reflects the diverse heritage and multicultural nature of San Francisco. The city is known for embracing different cultures and celebrating its rich tapestry of traditions.

From its early Spanish origins to the waves of immigrants who have shaped the city’s vibrant communities, San Francisco’s identity is deeply intertwined with the ‘San’ in its name.

Cultural Importance Today

The ‘San’ in San Francisco continues to be an important part of the city’s identity and culture today. It is a symbol of inclusivity, tolerance, and respect for different cultures and religions. The city’s diverse neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and history, contribute to the cultural fabric of San Francisco.

Furthermore, the ‘San’ in San Francisco serves as a reminder of the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability and the protection of natural resources. Saint Francis of Assisi, after whom the city is named, is revered for his love of nature and animals.

San Francisco has a long-standing reputation as an environmentally conscious city, with initiatives and policies aimed at preserving its natural beauty and reducing its carbon footprint.

How Locals Refer to ‘San Francisco’

San Francisco, often referred to as “The City by the Bay,” has a rich history and a vibrant culture that is reflected in the various ways locals refer to it. While the official name of the city is San Francisco, residents and visitors alike often use different nicknames to describe this iconic city.

Common Nicknames for the City

One of the most popular nicknames for San Francisco is “SF.” Locals often use this abbreviation in casual conversations and when referring to the city in a more informal setting. It’s a quick and easy way to identify the city without having to say the full name.

Another common nickname is “Frisco.” While this term is sometimes frowned upon by some locals who believe it diminishes the city’s significance, it has been used for decades and has become an accepted nickname among many residents.

In fact, the renowned columnist Herb Caen once famously said, “Don’t call it Frisco, it’s San Francisco.” However, despite this sentiment, you will still hear the term used by locals and visitors alike.

Additionally, some locals refer to San Francisco simply as “The City.” This nickname originated from the fact that it was the largest city in California and was often referred to as “The City” when compared to other smaller towns in the state.

When ‘San’ Is Used vs Omitted

The use of the term “San” in San Francisco can vary depending on the context and the preference of the speaker. In formal settings or when speaking to someone who is unfamiliar with the city, it is more common to use the full name, San Francisco.

However, in casual conversations among locals, the term “San” is often omitted, and people simply refer to the city as “Francisco.” This is particularly true when discussing specific neighborhoods or landmarks within the city.

For example, instead of saying “San Francisco International Airport,” locals might simply say “SFO” or “the airport.”

The omission of “San” in certain situations can be attributed to the familiarity and pride that locals have for their city. It’s a way for them to personalize their connection to the place they call home.


In summary, ‘San’ in San Francisco hearkens back to the city’s Spanish colonial roots and the venerable Saint Francis. It represents an integral part of this charming city’s history and character. Whether you’re a lifelong local or first-time visitor, understanding the meaning behind San Francisco’s name can give you a new appreciation for this beloved destination.

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