City Trivia Tuesday: What is the Origin of Yreka’s Name?

Much like the city of Azusa, Yreka’s unusual name has been the source of much speculation for curious Californians. Today, CaliforniaCityNews is going to get to the bottom of it and dispel a few rumors about the city’s name.

The name seems to evoke the word “eureka,” so it might be easy to assume that Yreka’s name is somehow related to fellow Northern California city Eureka. If there’s a U-reka, why not use another letter? Like “y” perhaps. 

But, although the names are similar, Yreka has nothing to do with Eureka. 

Others may have heard a tale about the city that can be seen in Mark Twain’s biography. The story goes like this: Back when Yreka was just a digging encampment site, someone was setting up a bakery. They hung their bakery sign up to dry in such a way that all the letters of BAKERY but the B showed through the back of the sign, showing the word “YREKA.” A stranger passing through misread the sign, and thought that “Yreka” was the name of the camp. Everyone figured it was as good a name as any and adopted it as their official title.

As great of an origin story that would be, unfortunately, Twain’s story was also untrue. This story can be traced as far back as 1886, where a newspaper made the observation that a local bakery named “Yreka Bakery” could be read the same both backwards and forwards.

The true story of the city’s name is still quite interesting, however. Yreka comes from the Shasta Indian word “wáik'a',” which roughly translates to “white mountain,” in reference to nearby Mount Shasta. An article from 1876 in the Yreka Journal said that the city was intended to be named Ieka, but through some kind of mistake, it was called “Wyreka.” The name stuck and the error continued (other than the dropping of the “w,” which officials considered superfluous.)

So there you go, while Yreka might not be named after a Bakery, the true origin of its name is still almost as interesting as the fiction.