It was in the early 1820s that names like Lobato and Nabato first appeared on local maps. It’s well established that Ygnacio Martinez, a Spanish army officer, named the location where he captured a Native American outlaw Canada de Novato. Canada is Spanish for glen, but where did novato come from? Many say it derived from the second century’s Saint Novatus and that sometime in the late 1820s, a Coastal Miwok was baptized in the saint’s honor. Another theory points out that novato is a Spanish word for new (as in beginner or inexperienced, according to dictionaries today). Regardless, in 1839, Spanish officer and Los Angeles native Fernando Feliz become owner of the 8,800-acre Rancho de Novato, and the center of Fernando’s rancho aligns with the middle of today’s downtown Novato.
his article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “The Origins of Novato“.