Who Is San Francisco Named After? A Detailed History

San Francisco is one of the most famous and iconic cities in the United States, known for its hilly geography, Victorian architecture, and progressive culture. But where exactly did its name come from and who is the city named after?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: San Francisco is named after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment in the Catholic religion. The city’s full name honors him.

Founding of the Presidio and Mission

The founding of the Presidio and Mission in San Francisco is a significant event in the city’s history. It marks the beginning of European settlement in the area and the establishment of the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in California.

Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition

The Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition played a crucial role in the founding of the Presidio and Mission in San Francisco. In 1774, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition from present-day Arizona to California with the purpose of establishing a Spanish presence in the region.

The expedition successfully reached the San Francisco Bay in 1776, and the expedition members explored the area and selected a site for the Presidio.

The establishment of the Presidio was significant because it served as a military outpost to protect the interests of the Spanish Empire in the region. The Presidio provided defense against potential foreign invaders and also facilitated the colonization and settlement of the area.

Father Junípero Serra Names the Settlement

Once the Presidio was established, Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, played a crucial role in the founding of the Mission in San Francisco. Father Serra was known for his efforts in establishing missions throughout California, and he saw the potential of the San Francisco area for a religious settlement.

In 1776, Father Serra named the Mission in San Francisco after Saint Francis of Assisi, a revered Catholic saint. The Mission was built near the Presidio and served as a religious and cultural center for the growing settlement.

The establishment of the Mission brought both Spanish culture and Catholicism to the indigenous people of the area. The missionaries aimed to convert the native population to Christianity and also introduced agriculture and other European practices.

Saint Francis of Assisi and His Namesake

Short Biography of St. Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He lived in the 13th century and is widely regarded as one of the most beloved and influential figures in Christian history.

St. Francis was born into a wealthy family but chose to renounce his material possessions and dedicate his life to serving God and helping the poor. He founded the Franciscan Order, which emphasized simplicity, poverty, and humility.

Qualities and Legacy of the Saint

St. Francis is known for his deep love and compassion for all living beings. He saw God’s presence in every aspect of nature and advocated for the protection and care of the environment. His famous prayer, the Canticle of the Sun, expresses his gratitude and reverence for creation.

St. Francis also preached peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and he is often depicted with animals, symbolizing his harmonious relationship with all creatures.

Today, St. Francis is remembered as a symbol of humility, compassion, and devotion. His teachings continue to inspire millions of people around the world to live a life of simplicity, kindness, and respect for all living things.

Significance of His Name to the Settlers

When the Spanish colonizers arrived in the area that is now San Francisco, they named the settlement after Saint Francis of Assisi. The choice of name reflected the settlers’ desire to establish a community that embodied the values and principles of the saint.

The name San Francisco also served as a reminder of the settlers’ Catholic faith and their commitment to promoting spirituality and social justice in their new home.

The legacy of St. Francis lives on in San Francisco, where his name has become synonymous with the city’s unique blend of culture, tolerance, and progressive values. The city’s residents often embrace the saint’s teachings, striving to create a community that is inclusive, environmentally conscious, and dedicated to helping those in need.

For more information about St. Francis of Assisi and his impact on San Francisco, you can visit www.franciscanmedia.org.

Origins of ‘San Francisco’ as a Place Name

The name ‘San Francisco’ has a rich history dating back to the Spanish colonial period in California. The origins of this iconic place name can be traced back to the use of the name in Spanish missions and other settlements named after the saint.

Use in Spanish Missions

During the 18th century, Spanish missionaries arrived in what is now California and established a series of missions along the coast. One of the most significant missions was Mission San Francisco de Asís, founded in 1776.

The mission was named after Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. The name ‘San Francisco’ was adopted for the mission and eventually became associated with the surrounding area.

Over time, the mission grew into a thriving settlement, attracting both Spanish settlers and indigenous people. The name ‘San Francisco’ became widely known and used to refer to the mission and the surrounding region.

The mission played a crucial role in the early history of San Francisco and set the foundation for the city we know today.

Other Settlements Named After the Saint

The popularity of the name ‘San Francisco’ extended beyond the mission. As more settlements were established in California, many of them were named after the beloved saint. These settlements served as centers of agriculture, trade, and culture, contributing to the growth and development of the region.

One example is the town of San Francisco Solano, located in Sonoma County. This town, founded in 1835, was named after both Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Francis Solanus, a Franciscan friar. Another example is San Francisco de los Tejas, a former Spanish mission in Texas named after the saint.

It is worth noting that while ‘San Francisco’ is commonly associated with the city in California, there are other places around the world bearing the same name. These include cities in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and the Philippines, among others.

The history of the name ‘San Francisco’ is a testament to the enduring influence of Spanish colonialism and the cultural heritage it left behind. Today, San Francisco is not only a city but also a symbol of innovation, diversity, and progress.


Adoption of the Name San Francisco

The adoption of the name San Francisco for the city we know today was not without controversy. Originally, the area was called Yerba Buena, a name that translates to “good herb” in Spanish. Yerba Buena was chosen as the name for the small village that was established in 1835.

However, in 1847, the village underwent a significant transformation that would ultimately lead to its new name.

Yerba Buena vs. San Francisco

The shift from Yerba Buena to San Francisco came about as a result of the California Gold Rush, which began in 1848. As people flocked to the area in search of gold, the village of Yerba Buena quickly grew and expanded.

With the influx of settlers, there was a need for a more recognizable and easily pronounceable name.

According to historical accounts, it was a man named Captain John Sutter who first suggested the name San Francisco. Sutter, who had established a trading post in the region, proposed the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.

His suggestion was met with enthusiasm and quickly gained popularity among the residents of the growing city.

In 1847, the name change was officially approved by the city council, and Yerba Buena became San Francisco. The adoption of the new name marked a significant turning point in the history of the city, as it signaled its emergence as a major urban center and a hub of economic activity.

Expansion of the City

With the new name in place, San Francisco continued to experience rapid growth and expansion. The Gold Rush brought thousands of people to the city, seeking their fortune in the mines. As a result, San Francisco became a bustling metropolis, with a diverse population and a thriving economy.

Over the years, the city has continued to expand both geographically and in terms of its influence. Today, San Francisco is known not only for its iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, but also for its vibrant arts and culture scene, innovative technology industry, and progressive social policies.

For more information on the history of San Francisco, you can visit the San Francisco Historical Society website, where you can find a wealth of resources and articles that delve deeper into the city’s fascinating past.

San Francisco’s Ties to St. Francis Today

San Francisco, the vibrant city located on the West Coast of the United States, has deep historical ties to St. Francis of Assisi. The city’s name itself is derived from the Spanish words “San Francisco,” which means “Saint Francis” in English.

St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved figure in the Catholic Church, known for his devotion to nature, animals, and the poor. Today, San Francisco continues to honor and celebrate the legacy of this revered saint in various ways.

Patron Saint of the Archdiocese

St. Francis of Assisi holds a significant place in the heart of San Francisco’s Catholic community as the patron saint of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese of San Francisco encompasses the city and surrounding areas, and St. Francis is recognized as a guiding figure for the faithful.

His teachings on humility, compassion, and stewardship of the environment resonate with the values of many San Franciscans.

Throughout the Archdiocese, you can find numerous churches, schools, and organizations that bear the name of St. Francis. These institutions strive to uphold his teachings and inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

St. Francis of Assisi Church, located in the North Beach neighborhood, is one such example, serving as a spiritual home for many in the community.

Statues and Sites Honoring St. Francis

San Francisco is home to several statues and sites that pay tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. One notable landmark is the St. Francis of Assisi Sculpture, located in the Golden Gate Park. This beautiful bronze statue depicts St. Francis, with his arms outstretched, surrounded by a variety of animals.

It serves as a reminder of his love for all creatures and his commitment to living in harmony with nature.

Another iconic site honoring St. Francis is the St. Francis of Assisi National Shrine, located in the historic North Beach neighborhood. This shrine, operated by the Order of Friars Minor, is a place of pilgrimage and reflection for visitors seeking solace and spiritual inspiration.

Additionally, many San Francisco residents and visitors find solace in the city’s numerous parks and green spaces, which are often named after St. Francis. These serene environments provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling city and offer an opportunity to connect with nature, following in the footsteps of the saint who valued the natural world.


In summary, San Francisco owes its full ceremonial name to Saint Francis of Assisi, the 12th century Italian friar devoted to poverty and nature. The Spanish missionaries and settlers saw him as an apt namesake for the foggy, rugged peninsula where they established a new settlement. Though initially called Yerba Buena, the city’s official name became San Francisco in 1847.

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