Sunday, 15 January 2017

Guatemala 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 of Guatemala's settlements.

Guatemala City clearly takes its name from the country. Both, as covered in earlier posts looking at first the country and later its capital city, where I explained this was the Spanish version of a native name. The local Tuendal word uhatzmalha described 'the mountain that gushes forth water' and likely refers to the volcanic mountain now known as Agua.

Villa Nueva is clearly of Spanish origins and means 'new outlying farmstead'. Had the place been of Saxon origin we would today call it Newthorpe.

Quetzalenango had been known by the Mam Maya people as Xelaju, this from xe laju' noj meaning 'under ten mountains'. By the time the Spanish arrived this city had been in existence for at least three centuries.

Chimaltenango had been known as B'oko prior to the arrival of the Spanish. However the Conquistadores opted, as always, to use the name given by the their Nahuatl-speaking allies from central Mexico who used Chimaltenanco or 'shield city'.

Huehuetenango was, in the original Mam Mayan language, known as Zaculeu, but the Cnquistadors used the Nahuatl name meaning 'place of the ancients or ancestors'.

Puerto Barrios has only been known as such since 1895, indeed only founded at the end of the 19th century, and named after president feneral Justo Rufino Barrios.

Chichicastenango is another taking the Nahuatl name as used by the Conquistadores, where Tziticaztenanco meant 'city of nettles'.

Santa Catarina Pinula takes the Spanish name for the patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, and adds pipil meaning 'flour of water'.

Antigua Guatemala literally means 'ancient Guatemala' and a reminder this was the third capital of the country.

Zacapa is another held to be from the Nahuatl language, here zacatl apan referring to 'the river of grass'.

Fraijanes is a corruption of the earlier name of Frailes Juanes, itself a reminder of the place being under the control of two priests Juan Milan and Juan Alvarez in the late 18th century.

Esquipulas is a Spanish-influenced version of the earlier Nahuatl name of Isquitzuchil or 'place where flowers abound'.

Xekik'el is a river name meaning 'where the blood spread' and a reminder of 20th February 1524 when conquistador Pedro de Alvarado killed the legendary K'iche' king Tecun Uman in single combat.

Nahuala is translated locally as either 'enchanted waters' or 'water of the spirits', objecting quite vociferously to any suugestion of 'water of the shamans' as this comes directly from the Spanish idea of aqua de los hrujos and clearly points to the man and not the spirits with which such are associated.

San Andres Itzapa is an ancient town. The Spanish adding 'St Andrew' to the original name meaning 'flint'. Note the Spanish also referred to the place as Valle del Durazno or 'valley of the peaches'.

Dos Pilas is an ancient Maya site, one named from Guatemalan Spanish meaning 'two wells'.

Iximche is another anceint site, this from the Mayan name of the ramon tree which the Mayan referred to as ixim che or 'maize tree'.

Kaminaljuyu is another anceint site, this name from a K'iche' word meaning 'mounds of the ancestors'.

Naranjo is an ancient Mayan site named from the Spanish for 'orange tree'. This a transliteration of Sa'aal meaning 'the place where maize abounds'.

Piedras Negras is a Mayan site with the Spanish name meaning 'black stones', while the original name is thought to read Yo'k'ib' or 'great gateway'.

Q'umarkaj is another Mayan site, this meaning 'place of old reeds' in the local K'iche' tongue.

Tikal is from the Yucatec Mayan language and means 'at the waterhole'.

Nakbe appears to come from the Mayan sacbe or 'white way', appropriate as the causeway still comes to the surface here.

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

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