What is the origin of Denver’s name?

Travel Destinations

By Erica Silverstein

Discovering Denver’s Name

Many people in the United States are familiar with Denver, the capital city of Colorado. Known as the Mile High City, Denver is a major hub for business, culture, and outdoor recreation in the American West. However, the origins of Denver’s name are less widely known. In this article, we’ll explore the history behind the naming of Denver and the various factors that influenced the choice of this distinctive moniker.

The Exploration of the West

The story of Denver’s name begins with the exploration of the American West in the early 19th century. During this time, a number of expeditions were launched to map and explore the newly acquired territories of the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican Cession. One of the most famous of these expeditions was led by a man named John C. Frémont, who explored much of the West during the 1840s and 1850s.

The Emergence of Denver City

In the late 1850s, gold was discovered in the area that is now Denver, Colorado. This sparked a rush of settlers and prospectors to the region, and a town soon emerged on the banks of the South Platte River. Originally called "Auraria" after the Greek word for "gold," the town was later merged with a nearby settlement called "Denver City" to form the modern city of Denver.

Naming the Mile High City

The name "Denver" was chosen as a tribute to James W. Denver, a politician and military officer who served as the governor of the Kansas Territory in the late 1850s. At the time, Denver was a well-known figure and his name was seen as a fitting choice for a new city in the West.

The Role of Governor Denver

While Denver was undoubtedly a prominent figure in his time, his legacy has largely been overshadowed by the city that bears his name. Nevertheless, Denver was a key player in the politics of the American West during the mid-19th century and played a role in shaping the region’s future.

The Controversy Surrounding Denver’s Naming

Despite its popularity today, the name "Denver" was not universally accepted at the time it was chosen. Some residents of the newly formed city preferred the name "Mountain City" or other options, and there was even a brief movement to rename the city after another prominent figure, Abraham Lincoln.

The Changing Spelling of Denver

Another interesting aspect of Denver’s name is the fact that its spelling has changed over time. Originally, the city was spelled with an "a" at the end ("Denver City"), but this was eventually dropped to create the modern spelling of "Denver."

The Symbolism of the Name Denver

While the choice of Denver’s name was largely pragmatic at the time, it has since taken on a deeper symbolic meaning. For many people, the name "Denver" represents the rugged individualism and pioneering spirit of the American West.

The Influence of Indigenous Tribes

It’s worth noting that the area around Denver has a rich history long before European settlers arrived. The land was traditionally inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples. Although the naming of Denver was largely a Euro-American affair, it’s important to acknowledge the influence of these indigenous communities on the history and culture of the region.

The Spanish Connection to Denver’s Name

Another interesting fact about Denver’s name is the possibility that it has a Spanish origin. Some historians have suggested that "Denver" may have been derived from the Spanish word "denfer," which means "of the passage." This theory is based on the idea that the area around Denver was an important passageway for Native American tribes and early explorers.

The Legacy of Denver’s Name

Today, Denver is a thriving city with a rich cultural heritage and a unique identity. While its name may seem like a small detail in the grand scheme of things, it’s worth remembering the history and symbolism behind this distinctive moniker.

Conclusion: The Story of Denver’s Name

In conclusion, the story of Denver’s name is a fascinating one that reflects the complex history of the American West. From the explorers and settlers who first came to the region to the politicians and citizens who shaped its future, many different factors contributed to the choice of this iconic name. Whether you’re a resident of Denver or simply a fan of its unique culture and heritage, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate the history and symbolism behind this storied city.

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Erica Silverstein

Erica, a seasoned travel writer with 20+ years of experience, started her career as a Let's Go guidebook editor in college. As the head of Cruise Critic's features team for a decade, she gained extensive knowledge. Her adventurous nature has taken her to Edinburgh, Australia, the Serengeti, and on luxury cruises in Europe and the Caribbean. During her journeys, she enjoys savoring local chocolates and conquering various summits.

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