How The City Of Tampa Got Its Name
Have you ever wondered how and why our city was named Tampa?
What I’m about to tell you, may surprise you. You might be shocked to learn how Tampa got the name Tampa. Or you may say, “Of course! That makes perfect sense!”
Before I researched the answer to this question, I made a couple of haphazard guesses. The word “Tampa” kind of sounds like the word “tamp.” Tamp means to pack in or firmly plant something. Maybe people who first discovered Tampa were like “This place is great! Let’s tamp down on it! We shall call it Tampa.” That’s a little silly. That’s not the answer. Then I said, “Well, Tampa sounds slightly similar to the word tempe(rature).” Maybe people came here and said, “The tempe(ratures) are high, but we still want to live here. We shall call it Tampa!” Nope. That’s not the answer either.
Well, there are a couple of schools of thought on the actual origins of the name. What historians can agree on is when the name first appeared. In 1575, it appeared in Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda’s memoir. He’d been held captive by Calusa Indians. But they actually called it Tanpa back then.
So there are a couple of different theories about the name meaning. Some claim that the name translates as “the place to gather sticks.” Tampa comes from a Seminole Indian word used to describe wood.
But I tend to believe this other theory. Some believe the translation for “Tampa” in the Calusa language is “stick of fire.” And presumably, sticks of fire refer to lightning. Doesn’t it make perfect sense? The Indians knew back then that Tampa was the lightning capital of the world. Isn’t it kind of funny…if Tampa really means fire sticks or lightning, then that would make the Tampa (Bay) Lightning are the Lightning (Bay) Lightning.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Tampa and not just how Tampa got its name, you can visit the Tampa History Center online or in person.