In Names on the Land, George Stewart writes that “the distinctive quality of California’s later naming history was its self-consciousness,” and illustrates this point with the story of Berkeley. In 1864, a site was chosen and forty acres purchased for a new college. A committee was appointed to find a name for the town, but no agreement could be reached. Searching for the perfect name, over a year and a half passed.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect, proposed Peralta, the name of the original property owner. Peralta seemed perfect, even as a possible Latin motto for the university: Per Alta (“through the high things” — especially appropriate for UC Berkeley it would seem).
And yet, even Peralta was passed over. A few days later, the trustees gathered on site for an informal meeting. Stewart relates that beneath a high sun on a clear spring day, watching out-bound ships cross the magnificent San Francisco Bay and out the Golden Gate, someone quoted George Berkeley: “Westward the course of empire takes its way.”
Berkeley’s full quote sits atop this incredible art-deco style pictorial map of the East Bay:
Stewart, George R. Names on the Land: a historical account of place-names in the United States. New York: 1946, p. 346-8.