There are several theories about the origin of the name. The most widely accepted one states that it comes from the Basque language, deriving from arantza ("hawthorn" in English). Another theory, attributed to Padre Martín Sarmiento, a Benedictine scholar who lived about a century after the founder of Aranjuez, Philip II of Spain, claims the origin to be from Latin Ara Jovis or Ara Iovia, which means the altar of the Roman god Jupiter also known as Zeus. However the pre-Roman derivation is generally preferred.
In 1178, the area was acquired by the Order of Santiago. Ferdinand and Isabella, the "Catholic monarchs", converted Aranjuez into a royal site. It was the Spring residence of the kings of Spain from the late 19th century.
During the reign of Philip II of Spain, in the second half of the 16th century, the royal palace was constructed and the name of the enlarged settlement was changed from Alpajes to Aranjuez. The site was initially designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo and completed by Juan de Herrera. The town, or Villa was extensively redesigned in the 18th century by Santiago Bonavía.