Ask Annie: How the Heck Do You Spell Saucalito… I Mean Sausilito… er, Sausalito?
(Ask Annie is a periodic feature sharing questions we get from readers. Names have been changed to protect the curious.)
I did a Google search on Sausalito but I misspelled it by accident and pages with other spellings like Saucalito came up. Are there other correct spellings, or was the spelling changed?
— Orthographist in Orange County
Dear Orthogo… Dear Orange County Reader,
It’s true that a lot of people have trouble spelling Sausalito!
The original spelling of Sausalito was the Spanish Saucelito, which means “little willow tree.” Willows in what we now call Old Town attracted the early sailing ships in San Francisco Bay, since their location signaled a supply of fresh water. In the 1820’s those willows gave us the first spelling for our town, and Saucelito was still reflected in the proposed map shown above for Old Town in 1873.
In the late 1800’s both the Saucelito and Sausalito spellings were used, but this created confusion in the sorting of the U.S. Mail. Zip Codes that would sort out such things weren’t invented until 1963.
As a result, in 1888 the U.S. Postal Service declared that it would use Sausalito as the official spelling, since in English it better reflected the pronunciation of the Spanish word.
By the way, when you look at the proposed map from the land developers of 1873 you may notice something funny. Today the closest street to the water in this area is 2nd St., but they show Water St. and Front St. even closer to the Bay.
Look more closely and you’ll see that they draw the coastline correctly, but then plot streets in the water! This reflects the historical tendency to simply fill in San Francisco Bay in order to create (valuable) new land.
Sometimes these subdivision maps could also be used as a maneuver. Developers would sell someone waterfront property, then reveal that the buyer could not moor boats there because someone else owned the adjacent underwater land. Of course, you could always buy that underwater land for a reasonable price!
So, to give you a simple answer, Saucelito and Sausalito are the only two official spellings of Sausalito we have ever had. Saucalito and Sausilito and other variants are, well, they’re very creative spellings!.
Thanks for asking! (And thanks to the Sausalito Historical Society for preserving these stories!)