How Phoenix and Tucson Got Their Names

Or Is It Pheonix and Tuscon? Or Phenix and Tuson? Or...

Phoenix AZ
••• Downtown Phoenix. Kerrick James / Getty Images

Before there was ever a large city called Phoenix, before stadiums and freeway loops, and airport terminals and cell phone towers, the inhabitants of the Pueblo Grande ruins tried to irrigate the land of the Valley with about 135 miles of canal systems. A severe drought is thought to have marked the demise of these people, know as the "Ho Ho Kam", or 'the people who have gone.' Different groups of Indians inhabited the land of the Valley of the Sun after them.

How Phoenix Got Its Name

In 1867 Jack Swilling of Wickenburg stopped to rest by the White Tank Mountains and envisioned a place that, with just some water, looked like promising farmland. He organized the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company and moved to the Valley. In 1868, as a result of his efforts, crops began to grow and Swilling's Mill became the name of the new area about four miles east of where Phoenix is today. Later, the name of the town was changed to Helling Mill, then Mill City. Swilling wanted to name the new place Stonewall after Stonewall Jackson. The name Phoenix was actually suggested by a man named Darrell Duppa, who is purported to have said: "A new city will spring phoenix-like upon the ruins of a former civilization."

Phoenix Becomes Official
Phoenix became official on May 4, 1868, when an election precinct was formed here. The Post Office was established just over a month later on June 15.

Jack Swilling was the Postmaster.

Just a note: Common misspellings of the name of our city include Pheonix and Phenix. Phoenix is pronounced: fee-niks. A person who lives in Phoenix is called a Phoenician (fu-nee-shun). A person who lives in Arizona is an Arizonan (a-riz-oh-nen).

Oh, and one more thing!

Did you know that there are thirteen other states that have a city named Phoenix? They are:

  1. Colorado
  2. Georgia
  3. Illinois
  4. Louisiana
  5. Maryland
  6. Michigan
  7. Mississippi
  8. New Jersey
  9. New York
  10. North Carolina
  11. Oregon
  12. South Carolina
  13. Texas

There are five states (and Arizona is not one of them!) that have a city named Phenix:

  1. Arkansas
  2. Indiana
  3. Missouri
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Virginia

How Tucson Got Its Name

According to the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the name Tucson is derived from the Indian word, 'Chuk-son,' meaning village of the dark spring at the foot of the mountains.

Tucson Beginnings
The city was established in 1775 by Spanish soldiers as a walled presidio - the Presidio of San Augustin de Tucson. Tucson became a part of Mexico in 1821 when Mexico won its independence from Spain, and in 1854 became a part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.

Modern Tucson
Today, Tucson is still referred to as "The Old Pueblo."

Just a note: Common misspellings of the name of the city include Tuscon and Tuson. Tucson is pronounced: too-sahn. The City of Tucson's website also allows for the pronunciation of Tucson as: too-sahn. A person who lives in Tucson is called a Tucsonan (too-sohn-en). A person who lives in Arizona is an Arizonan (a-riz-oh-nen).

Oh, and one more thing: Ohio is the only other state I could find that has a place named Tucson.It is an unincorporated area in Ross County.

Spelling Counts: Is It Pheonix and Tuscon? Or Phenix and Tuson?
It won't come as a surprise to people that live in either of these two cities that both of Arizona's largest cities have been 'honored' as being in the list of the top ten misspelled cities in America.

Here is the list of the top ten misspelled cities as defined by ePodunk:

  1. Pittsburgh
  2. Tucson
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Albuquerque
  5. Culpeper
  6. Asheville
  7. Worcester
  8. Manhattan
  9. Phoenix
  10. Niagara Falls

So how did they come up with this list? It wasn't the most scientific of studies--ePodunk has listings of over 25,000 communities at its website, and the study was based on the analysis of six months of search inquiries on city names.