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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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Final Names Selected for Rancho Mission Viejo School; Don Juan Ortega Casts His Vote

According to this article in the Capistrano Dispatch, the Capistrano Unified School District has narrowed down the list of names for the new K-8 school that will be built in Planning Area 2, the Village of Esencia, in Rancho Mission Viejo.  Among the finalists are:

  • Barbara L. Banda, a local woman who helped bring Native American education to CUSD schools.
  • Escencia, named after the village the new school will be built in. In Spanish, it means “essence.”
  • Glenn T. Seaborg, a Nobel Prize winning American chemist.
  • Helena Modjeska, a prominent 19th century Shakespearean stage actress who lived and died in Orange County.
  • Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States.
  • Ortega Oaks.

According to the Dispatch, two additional names (with mascots) were selected from suggestions made by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians.

  • Acjachema Aswuts, named after the tribe and their native word for “golden eagles.”
  • Coronne Chiefs, inspired by the tribe’s first female chief.

How about Chiquita Canyon?  Cow Camp?  Rancho Mission Viejo?

Do you want to know our thoughts? Maybe not, but we’re going to write them anyway.

We’d strike Seaborg, unless someone tells me he is from the area. (Quick Wikipedia page check: nope, he was born in Michigan, lived in Los Angeles, spent time at Cal and UCLA and died in Lafayette — no local connections.)  Too obscure and unconnected to the area.

We’d strike Reagan, too, as much as it pains us to say it.  Don Juan is a Reagan man and considers him one of the greatest Presidents of the modern era, but Reagan had no connection here either (apart from being Governor of the State).  If we were naming a school being built on a ranch in Goleta, we’d be all for it.  But not here.  If you want to name a school after a former President with Orange County roots who was actually friends with Richard O’Neill, the patriarch of Rancho Mission Viejo, well, we know a guy…

Now the choices are getting more difficult, but we would not choose Modjeska.  Frankly, we are a bit surprised that there isn’t a public school named for Modjeska in Orange County.  After all, she was one of Orange County’s most prominent citizens, but this school is in the wrong location.  Helena Modjeska’s connections are north of here, in Anaheim and the canyon that bears her name.  There should be a Modjeska School, but it should probably be in Saddleback Unified and closer to her historic home, Arden.  That was a good suggestion, though, and honestly, we wouldn’t object if that was the winner.  It has a very Orange County flavor to it and Modjeska deserves the recognition.

We’d also be happy with any of the remaining names — all are unobjectionable and appropriate to the location of the school, and the history of the area.

Some of the finalists are a bit generic, but that seems to be the school naming practice lately.  If you look at the names of nearby schools that have been recently built, you sense a pattern: Oso Grande (“big bear”), Chaparral (flora and fauna), Ladera (place name/”hillside”), Tesoro (“treasure”), San Juan Hills (place name).  There seems to be a preference at CUSD for generic school names that might have a loose connection to the location.  That trend lends support for either Esencia (or Escencia, if that’s how they are spelling it) or Ortega Oaks.  Of those two choices, we like Ortega Oaks.  After all, Esencia is a marketing term that was created a few months ago by a real estate developer.  There is nothing intrinsically local about Esencia, other than Rancho Mission Viejo was able to trademark it.  Both Ortega and the oak trees have been around a lot longer than that.  So if that’s the route CUSD wants to go, we suggest Ortega Oaks School.


But who is to say the CUSD Board won’t surprise us?  Maybe they will do something different this time and select a name that represents the rich Native American heritage of our area?  That means honoring the history of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation.  For  example, naming the school after one of the Juaneño matriarchs would be a noble statement, and that would suggest picking either Banda or Coronne.  But we think the Native American heritage of Orange County is not best represented by one person, so we would not select either of those names.

We returned to Wikipedia again to research the Acjachemen Nation, and we learned that “[t]he Acjachemen territory extended from Las Pulgas Creek in northern San Diego County up into the San Joaquin Hills along Orange County’s central coast, and inland from the Pacific Ocean up into the Santa Ana Mountains. Aliso Creek formed the northern boundary. The bulk of the population occupied the outlets of two large creeks, San Juan Creek (and its major tributary, Trabuco [Creek]) and San Mateo Creek.”

In other words, the heartland of the ancestral Acjachemen home was pretty much right under where this new school is going to be built?  This image illustrates it perfectly:

image source: Wikipedia (Creative Commons License)

Note that the map above is incorrect.  Trabuco Canyon should actually be labeled San Mateo Creek, and San Mateo Creek is actually Trabuco Creek.

You have to admit, that seems like a pretty compelling fit.  The school is being built in the heart of the ancestral home of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation.  It’s an opportunity to honor the first peoples of Orange County and preserve some of the rich historical legacy of the area — a history, by the way, that predates the Mission by several thousand years.  Some apparently suggested that selecting an indigenous name would be a political statement, since the Acjachemen Nation is seeking Federal recognition.  We don’t agree — it’s a meaningful and logical tribute to the history of this area, and the name would be appropriate whether or not Federal recognition is granted.

So let’s tackle the most obvious objection.


That’s hard to pronounce!

Actually it’s not that hard, once you learn a little Luiseño, with some Uto-Aztecan pronunciation.  We admit, even Don Juan Ortega’s Uto-Aztecan is a bit rusty.

But Acjachema is usually pronounced like this:  A-ha * shĕ-ma

That’s a short e (often written as ĕ) in shĕ-ma.  It’s the same “e” sound that you would hear in hĕn, or lĕmon.


Say that a few times over and you’ve got it.  Done.

To have the Aswuts as a mascot might be a little obscure for grade schoolers, but what about the Acjachema Golden Eagles?

So in case anyone is interested, Don Juan Ortega casts his vote for the Acjachema School, Home of the Golden Eagles.


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