Sunday, 2 June 2019

Mexico Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Mexican cities.

Mexico takes its name from the lake which once occupied the same general area as the capital city. Known as Metzlianan by the Aztecs, this comes from netz-tli atl and gave the name of Metzxihco to the city, the latter meaning 'in the navel of the waters of the moon'.

Ecatepec is from the Nahuatl and means eithr 'windy hill' or perhaps 'hill devoted to Ehecatl', this the deity in Aztec mythology associated with the wind.

Guadalajara is a transferred name from Spain, that of the leader of the original settlers Nuno de Guzman. That name comes from the Arabic Wadi-al-Hajara 'valley of stones' and a likely translation of the earlier Iberian name of Arriaca or stony river'.

Puebla was founded in 1531 in an area then known as Cuetlaxcoapan or 'where serpents change their skin', a much more interesting definition than the current name which is simply the Spanish for 'village'.

Juarez was known as Paso del Norte or 'pass of the north' until it served as a temporary stop for Benito Juarez's republican forces when they were fighting the French.

Tijuana was first named as such when the rancho was establsihed here by Santiago Arguello Moraga in 1829. He took the name of Rancho Tia Juana from the local Kumeyaay language where Tiwan means 'by the sea'.

Leon is simply the Spanish 'lion'.

Zapopan is the Spanish form of the Nahuatl tzapotl with pan giving 'among the sapote trees'. This does not refer to a specific tree but is a general term for the many trees bearing soft edible fruits.

Monterrey was named after the wife of Gaspar de Zuniga, 5th Count of Monterrey and ninth Viceroy of New Spain.

Nezahualcoyotl comes from the Nahuatl or Aztec for 'fasting coyote', the animal featured on the city's seal.

Culiacan is a Spanish version of the original and could either refer to Colhuacan 'the place of those who adore the crooked god Coltzin' or coahuacan 'palace of snakes'. Neither of which are particularly pleasant and yet another indication that places were named by the neighbours more often than the inhabitants, who simply called it 'home'.

Chihuahua is not named after the breed of dog but comes from the Nahuatl for 'between the waters', or 'place of the holed rock', or dry and sandy place', depending upon which era the name developed.

Naucalpan is another of Nahuatl origin, either referring to 'place of the four neighbourhoods' or 'four houses'.

Merida is taken from its Spanish namesake itself once Emerita Augusta and a reference to this being where the discharged soldiers of Emperor Augustus settled - it means 'the veterans'. Earlier the Mayans referred to this as Ichkanzihoo or 'city of the five hills' - a much nicer origin than the current name.

San Luis Potosi City is named after Louis IX of France, who is the city's patron saint. Potosi is a nod to the role played by the mines of Potosi in Bolivia, on which the wealth and growth of this place was founded. The origin of Potosi is uncertain, but may come from the Aymaran root meaning 'thunderous noise'.

Aguascalientes originates in the Spanish aguas calientes or 'hot waters', thermal springs still a feature of this area.

Hermosillo was named after Jose Maria Gonzalez Hermosillo, a 19th century hero whose surname loosely translates as 'beautiful ones'.

Mexicali is a modern name, a portmanteau composed of Mexico and California.

Guadalupe is another transferred from a Spanish namesake, here the Arabic wadi and Latin lupus combine to mean 'valley or river of the wolf'.

Acapulco is from the Nahuatl aca pol co or where the reeds were destroyed'.

Tlalnepantla resulted in a dispute between the towns of Tenayuca and Teocalheuyacan as to where the Franciscan monastery should be located. The decision to place it beween resulted in this sense of 'middle place'.

Cancun is a Spanish translation of the Mayan kaan kun 'place of snakes'.

Queretaro comes from the Purepecha language where they refer to Crettaro 'place of crags'. It was also referred to as Maxei or Ndamaxei in the Otomi language, this meaning 'ball game' oand 'grand pool game' respectively.

Chimalhuacan is from the Nahuatl for 'place of those who have shields'.

Torreon comes from the Spanish for 'big tower' these built to monitor the regular flooding of the area.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


  1. hi!,I really like your writing very a lot!
    proportion we keep up a correspondence extra approximately your article on AOL?

    I need a specialist in this space to resolve my problem.
    Maybe that's you! Taking a look ahead to see you.

  2. We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your site provided us with helpful information to work on. You've performed an impressive task and our whole group shall be thankful to you.

  3. If some one wants to be updated with most recent technologies then he must
    be go to see this website and be up to date everyday.

  4. It's an remarkable article in support of all the web people; they will get advantage from it I
    am sure.