Excerpt from “Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona,” a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published March 18, 2001.)
Q: Why is Mojave spelled with an “h” in Arizona and with a “j” in California?
A: It is? By golly, you’re right. We never noticed that before. In Arizona, we have Mohave County and the Mohave Mountains and the Mohave Valley and assorted other Mohave things, but in California it’s Mojave. Either way, it’s pronounced mo-ha-ve, with a long “o” and long “e” and the accent on the second syllable.
Let us start at the beginning: Mohave is an attempt to spell or pronounce the true name of the Native American tribe called the Mojave. It’s Pipa Aha Macave, “people who live along the water.” Mutavilya, the tribe’s spirit-mentor, created the Colorado River and educated the people in civilization. When the Spaniards met them in the 18th century, the Pipa Aha Macave, who are related to the Yuman Indian tribes, were well-to-do farmers who traded with tribes as far away as the Pacific Ocean.
Fort Mojave was established as a military outpost on the east bank of the Colorado in 1859 to protect wagon trains from the Mojaves, who were getting understandably grouchy about the intrusions of migrants and soldiers. The fort was abandoned in 1861 because of the Civil War, reopened in 1863, and in 1890, it was turned over for use as an Indian school.
Today, the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, based in Needles, covers about 32,000 acres in California, Arizona and Nevada. According to one of our favorite books, X Marks the Spot: Historical Names of Places in Arizona, by Byrd Howell Granger, there have been over the years more than 50 variations in the spelling of Mojave.
However, the tribe spells it Mojave and so does the Arizona Republic stylebook, and that’s good enough for us.
Arizona’s use of “h” apparently is an attempt to anglicize the Spanish pronunciation that uses the soft “j,” as in Juan or jalapeño.