Fictional islands that are neither fictional nor islands

Today I learned (from the Reader’s Digest–published American Folklore and Legend) that the state of California was named after a fictional island.

California was the name given to a mythical island […] in the popular early 16th-century romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

Know, then, that an island called California exists on the right hand of the Indies, very close to the coast of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it was peopled by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the manner of the Amazons. They were of beautiful and robust body, ardent valor, and great strength. Their island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were all of gold, and of the same metal were the harnesses of the savage beasts that they were accustomed to tame and ride, because in all the island there was no other metal than gold.

Of course Baja California turned out not to be an island after all, but a peninsula.

A little later in the same book, in a story about Jean Lafitte, I was reminded that New Orleans’ Barataria Bay is named for another fictional island, the island of Barataria governed by Sancho Panza in Don Quixote.

“And where is this island?” said Ricote.

“Where?” said Sancho; “two leagues from here, and it is called the island of Barataria.”

“Nonsense! Sancho,” said Ricote; “islands are away out in the sea; there are no islands on the mainland.”

This is not to be confused with the Kingdom of Barataria from The Gondoliers (1889).

Wikipedia claims that Edward Everett Hale (who published a translation of some of Esplandián in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864) linked the name “California” and the name of the island’s queen “Calafia” to the word Caliph; that is, “Calafia” as female caliph and “California” as Amazonian caliphate.

Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan links the name “Barataria” to the Spanish barato, “cheap” (etymologically related to our verb to barter).

So now you know: one fictional island that gave its name to a real island that turned out not to be an island at all, and one fictional island that turned out not to be an island and then gave its name to a real body of water.

Posted 2018-12-16