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Why do they call it that? The Tampa Bay Area | News

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Why do they call it that? The Tampa Bay Area

Governor Rick Scott raised a lot of eyebrows earlier this month. To some, he seemed confused about using the term Tampa Bay to refer to the region we call home.

So, how did the name Tampa Bay get connected with more than just the big ol' body of water?

Why do they call it Tampa Bay?

Old timers will tell you Tampa Bay is only the bay. Not the area, not the region -- not land, not people -- just the water.

But ask the real old timers, from almost 200 years ago. What would they say?

Welcome to Tampa Bay.

"Originally, when Tampa got its first post office... in 1831, that post office was actually called Tampa Bay," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

He says the tiny town dropped Bay and became just Tampa a few years later.

From then on, if you said Tampa Bay, you almost certainly meant the 400 square mile expanse of water likely created when the Gulf broke through to a huge freshwater lake around 10,000 years ago.

The bay was created millennia ago, but the latest big development goes back just a few decades.

Platform shoes, butterfly collars, and big beautiful hair -- things you can still find at shops like LaFrance Vintage Clothing in Ybor City -- all came into style in the 1970's.

What else came into style in the 70's? That old, almost forgotten idea of calling our whole region Tampa Bay.

In 1975, the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer club became the first pro sports team to put Tampa Bay across its players' chests.

But they were following a plan that had been already laid out by their big-time NFL cousins, who started playing one year later.

"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise. That's when we really began to have a national identity in the 20th Century, particularly in the media," Kite-Powell said.

"And the name of that football team kind of blossomed into calling this whole area Tampa Bay."

But even that name wasn't always around.

The oldest Spanish maps mark the little dent in Florida we call home as Bahia de Espiritu Santo -- Bay of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.

That name is one you've probably never heard of, but it was used for hundreds of years! Over time, it came to cover just the part of the bay near the mouth, where the Skyway Bridge now crosses.

Up north, mappers marked Hillsborough Bay where the Hillsborough River ends. And over to the west, near where Safety Harbor and Oldsmar now sit, was the first area tagged with the name Tampa Bay.

"There was a little village at the top of Tampa Bay called Tampa -- at least, that's what we think it was called -- it was a native village. And, so, because that existed, they called the top part of Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay," Kite-Powell said.

When Florida joined the United States in the 1820's, the name Tampa Bay started replacing that old Spanish Espiritu Santo.

That change led to using that one name -- Tampa Bay -- to refer to the whole estuary, and eventually, our whole region of four million people.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

The whole identity of our area may be based on a pair of massive mistakes. The earliest records of that native village call it "Tanpa," not Tampa.

And because mapmaking was not too precise back then, some scholars believe the village of Tanpa actually sat along Charlotte Harbor, 50 miles south of what we call Tampa Bay.

Those historians say over the years, the Tampa Bay name got attached to a different indentation in Florida's west coast.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News 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.


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