Immigrant influence and several theories postulated

Rocklin, Calif. – Our city’s name first appeared in print in June 1864 when ‘Rocklin’ was listed in a Central Pacific Railroad timetable as a stop between Junction (now Roseville) and Pino (now Loomis).

But how did the name, ‘Rocklin’, originate? And if the coiners wanted to recognize the ‘rock’ of our granite outcroppings and quarries, why not use a name like Rockland or Graniteville?





Theory #1

Stan Rocklin of Fairfax, Virginia thinks that he might know the answer. “My grandfather Rocklin told me that a distant relative was involved in building the railroads in the West” he said.

“Grandfather also told me that a town had been named for that relative”.

Stan Rocklin of Fairfax, Virginia

Could that town have been our Rocklin?

According to a Sacramento Railroad Museum archivist, it was common practice, during construction of the transcontinental railroad for the Central Pacific to name passenger stations for locally famous people. According to the Loomis Historical Society, the town of Loomis was named for its first stationmaster.

But railroad archives don’t show an 1860’s employee named ‘Rocklin’. Stan Rocklin and other ‘Rocklin’ have searched around the world via the Internet for 2 years and have not yet identified an 1800’s ancestor in California.

Theory #2

Another theory about Rocklin’s name, one expressed in some of Rocklin’s written histories, is that ‘Rocklin’ is a corruption of ‘Rockland’ or a short version of a Finnish equivalent. However, according to Rocklin Historical Society (RHS) President Roy Ruhkala, Rocklin has never been named ‘Rockland’ and ‘Rocklin’ has no meaning in the Finnish language. Ruhkala quickly points out however that, in his experience on the Rocklin City Council and as Rocklin’s mayor, mail to city offices was sometimes erroneously addressed to ‘Rockland’, California.

Theory #3

A third theory is that ‘Rocklin’ originated in the Gaelic of early Irish settlers. Evidence for the Irish connection is circumstantial but compelling.

In the United State Census of 1860, most of today’s Rocklin was called ‘Secret Ravine’. The population was possibly centered near today’s Secret Ravine neighborhood, the area of homes, open fields and oaks that we see today on the southeast side of Interstate 80 between Roseville and Loomis.

1860 census

Secret Ravine’s 1860 census counted 440 people. 72 were Irish born. 47 Irishmen sluiced for gold in Secret Ravine’s creeks.

Michael Keating was the local innkeeper. Tom Maloney was the shoemaker.  James Bolton owned the farm that he subdivided to form Rocklin’s original town site in 1866. All of these men were Irish. By their numbers in 1860, Irishmen were our area’s dominant immigrant group.

According to Ruhkala there are no enduring memories of the Irish among Rocklin’s old-timers as there are of the Finns who first came here in the 1870’s and the Spanish who arrived here by way of Hawaii in the early 20th century.  Our next glimpse of the Irish is the 1870 census which shows that during the 1860”s the Irish miners had abandoned their sluice boxes and settled into railroad jobs. Irishmen made up the largest group of foreign-born Rocklin Roundhouse workers.

A town without a name

Rocklin had probably not been named as of March 1864 when the transcontinental railroad tracks reached our area from Sacramento. A Sacramento Union article that month refers to our downtown area as merely the ‘granite quarries at the end of the tracks’.

Ireland’s capital, Dublin, is named for a pool of dark water at the confluence of 2 rivers. ‘Dublin’ is made up of 2 truncated Gaelic words ‘Dubh’ for black and  ‘linn’ for pool. Rocklin’s Irishmen might have noticed the pools of winter rainwater standing among the granite outcroppings and at the bottoms of the quarry pits. Fancifully combining English with Gaelic to mimic the construct of ‘Dublin’ they might have named our town ‘rock’ for the granite and ‘lin’ for the pools. ‘Rock pool’ aptly describes Rocklin’s rainwater filled quarries and wintertime puddles among downtown granite outcroppings even today.

The origin of Rocklin’s name remains a mystery. Stan Rocklin’s clan continues the search. But Rocklin might owe its name to the whimsy of early Irish settlers.


According to the Irish Genealogical Foundation, in 1860 many Irishmen in California had probably survived the Irish Potato Famine and the coffin ships that brought them to Boston and New York in the 1840’s. Many were impoverished in America and they would have been skeptical when news of Marshall’s gold discovery filtered eastward in early 1848.

Late that summer Kit Carson delivered a bag of nuggets to President Polk. In December, Eastern newspapers announced that Polk had reported the bonanza to congress. This sent thousands of Irishmen overland, around the Horn or over the Isthmus to the gold fields. Their arrival in Rocklin is unrecorded, but by their numbers they might have had enough influence among Rocklin’s settlers to have given Rocklin its name.

(originally published by Gary Day September 7, 2005)

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