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Why do they call it that? Sarasota, Sara Sota, or Sarazota?

8:55 AM, Aug 1, 2012   |    comments
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It's the name of a city, a county, and a bay. But over the years, the name Sarasota has changed in ways you've probably never imagined.

Why do they call it Sarasota?

Come one! Come all! To the city with a famous circus past! Once the wintertime home of the Ringling Brothers Circus -- the Greatest Show on Earth!

See the spectacle! Be amazed! Hold onto your children... as we travel back into the past... and see this city's name -- Sarasota -- split in two!

"Way back when, it was Sarasota -- one word, or Sara Sota -- two words," said Jeff LaHurd, who runs the Sarasota County History Center.

LaHurd has written more books about Sarasota -- or Sara Sota -- than anyone else. If he says it, I believe it.

"Even back when the Scot colony arrived, they were spelling it S-a-r-a and then S-o-t-a in certain literature," he said.

That colony of folks from Scotland brought the first big blast of settlers to this place. Among them was John Hamilton Gillespie, the town's future mayor.

He loved Scotland's national sport so much, he brought it here. And he built in Sara Sota what was almost certainly the first course in Florida -- and possibly in the United States -- for an obscure game called "golf."

But c'mon, let's go even further back in time... to the age of Indians, explorers, and a map. This particular map was made the year America was born, 1776. And along Florida's west coast you'll spot Boca Sarazota.

"That's where the name stems from," LaHurd said.

Boca means "mouth" in Spanish -- like a pass or inlet leading out to the Gulf of Mexico. It would have been spotted by sailors. But what about Sarazota? That's a tough one. I can definitely tell you where it didn't come from.

"Some people think it stems from a legend of Sara DeSota, [which] became the basis of an annual festival," much like Tampa's Gasparilla, LaHurd said.

"It told about the legend of Sara DeSota and her unrequited love for an Indian chief," he said. In the tale, Sara is the daughter of famed Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto.

"The problem with the legend is Hernando didn't have a daughter," LaHurd said. And, just like Gasparilla, Sara DeSota's legend "was just made up for the celebration."

All right, well where did the name Sarasota come from?

"The best explanation for what Sarasota means came from a lady who did research in the 30's," LaHurd said. "When the explorers were passing by, from the distance, it looked like flat land and reminded them of the Sahara."

"Sara meant 'the Sahara.' Zota was Indian for 'blue waters.' So that's how the name came together. And that's the best explanation I've seen."

But no guarantees? "No guarantees," LaHurd said.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Sarasota marks a major anniversary this month. In August, 134 years ago, the community got its first post office. The name of the post office? Sara Sota.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News starting at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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