How Did Phoenix Get Its Name?

Excerpt from Arizona Adventure by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.

Arizona’s capital city might have been called “Salina,” “Stonewall,” or even “Pumpkinville,” had it not been for a spurious English “Lord” named Darrell Duppa. Duppa was a well-educated world traveler who, it was rumored, was given a substantial allowance by his wealthy English relatives to remain permanently at large.

His raucous lifestyle, highlighted by epic bouts with dipsomania was, no doubt, a source of embarrassment to his relatives and contributed to his banishment to Arizona. It was said “Lord” Duppa was fluent in seven languages. Unfortunately for his listeners, the erudite eccentric spoke all seven in the same paragraph.

Downtown Phoenix
Phoenix could have been named Pumpkinville?

Duppa was a member of a committee chosen to select a name for the new settlement on the banks of the Salt River one sunny October day in 1870. An intrepid group of entrepreneurs led by Jack Swilling had cleaned out some prehistoric canals dug by the now-vanished Hohokam people; an irrigation company had been organized and plans were being made to develop farms. Soon the arid valley would grow crops to supply the military post at Fort McDowell and the mining camps throughout the Bradshaw Mountains. Now they decided it was time to give the place a name.

Swilling wanted to call the new settlement “Stonewall,” after his hero, the late “Stonewall” Jackson. Another member chose Salina for the Salt River. Still another wanted Pumpkinville for the wild pumpkins growing in the area. When Duppa’s turn came, he arose and waxed eloquently on the ancient civilization that had once flourished on the land where they stood. He predicted the rise of another great civilization on the same site. In his inimitable elocutionary style Duppa compared the phenomenon to the mythical Phoenix bird in Egypt that lived 500 years, then rose from its own funeral pyre to flourish again. Needless to say, Duppa’s proposal carried the day.


  1. says

    Thanks for this post – comical that we could have been called “pumpkinville”…. I mean all I can think of regarding that is…. Farmville

    We don’t even grow pumpkins here do we? lol…

    Anyways thanks for the info

      • SaraD says

        It kind of seems that the person who suggested “Pumpkinville” didn’t expect much to develop in the Salt River Valley. That kind of begs the question, if Punkin Center (in Gila County) had been called “Phoenix”, would it be the state capitol today?…

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