As with much of the American southwest, the area surrounding what is now Los Angeles once belonged to Spain. Officially settled in 1781, the original name of what is now Los Angeles was El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, or "The Town of the Queen of Angels" in Spanish. The pueblo eventually became a ciudad, or city, which made Los Angeles the City of Angels. The name has been with the it ever since.
Originally home to Native American tribes, the first Europeans passed through Los Angeles during the 16th century when an expedition sent by the viceroy of New Spain originally staked claim to the area in what is now southern California for the Spanish empire. It was not until 200 years later that the city was actually settled, however, when the new governor of California, Felipe de Neve, sent a group known as Los Pobladores, the settlers, to search for areas that might be suitable for settlement. Los Pobladores were a group of 12 families from the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinoloa. Upon their recommendation, the governor ordered that the area now known as Los Angeles be settled into a pueblo, or town.
The pueblo was named El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles because of its proximity to the river by the same name — El Rio de Nuestro Senora La Reina de Los Angeles, or The River of Our Lady the Queen of Angels. There is some controversy as to whether the original name of both the river and the town also included de Porciuncula, after a small Italian church. Common belief appears to be that the words were originally part of the name; however, scholars appear to disagree.
Regardless of whether or not the name originally included this element, it appears as though both the city and the river of angels were named in honor of the shrine, found on the plain below Assisi in Italy to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria degli Angeli — otherwise known as "Our Lady of the Angels." It was not uncommon, at the time, to name new settlements, or conquests, after prominent religious or political figures. Eventually, the area grew and became the City of Los Angeles in 1850. From that point on, the city has frequently been referred to as the "City of Angels."