How Los Angeles Got Its Nickname 'The City of Angels'

Los Angeles, the sprawling metropolis known for its glamorous film industry, palm tree-lined streets, and iconic cultural landmarks, carries with it an evocative nickname: "The City of Angels." Many wonder how a city that is so often associated with Hollywood glitz and urban chaos came to be linked with such a serene and heavenly moniker. The answer to this question lies deep within the historical and cultural origins of Los Angeles.

The Early Origins

The story begins in the late 18th century, long before the glamour of Hollywood or the rush of modern-day L.A. traffic. The area now known as Los Angeles was originally inhabited by Native American groups, including the Chumash and the Tongva. Their presence in the region dates back thousands of years.

It wasn't until 1769 that European explorers led by Gaspar de Portolà ventured into this territory. They were followed shortly by Spanish missionaries, who had embarked on an ambitious project to establish missions across California, converting the indigenous population to Christianity.


On August 2, 1769, the explorers and missionaries set up camp near the river that they named "El Río de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula," which translates to "The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula." This name was a homage to a chapel in Assisi, Italy, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels.

The small settlement that eventually sprang up around the river inherited a shortened version of this name. In 1781, a group of 44 settlers, known as "Los Pobladores," founded the town of "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles," which means "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels." As time went on, this lengthy name was naturally abbreviated, and the settlement came to be commonly referred to as simply "Los Ángeles."

From this modest pueblo, Los Angeles underwent significant transformation. Its trajectory was marked by Mexican rule following Spain, then U.S. annexation after the Mexican-American War, and subsequent American statehood for California. Through waves of migration, economic booms, the growth of the film and entertainment industry, and the influence of multiple cultures, Los Angeles burgeoned into the vast city we recognize today.

As it grew, Los Angeles carried with it the moniker, "The City of Angels," a poetic translation of its Spanish name. While the city evolved far beyond its mission roots, the nickname became a symbolic reminder of its serene origins. Interestingly, the contrast between the purity of "The City of Angels" and the vibrant, sometimes tumultuous nature of L.A.'s urban life adds a layer of intrigue to the city’s identity.

The nickname "The City of Angels" serves as a timeless bridge between Los Angeles's spiritual origins and its contemporary image. While the skyscrapers, studios, and highways may dominate today's landscape, the city's name remains a testament to its rich and layered history. Through its name, Los Angeles stands as a city of contrasts, blending the sacred with the profane, the historical with the cutting-edge, always reminding its inhabitants and visitors of the angels that once watched over its birth.