New name for an old city: “Distrito Federal” officially changes its name to “Ciudad de México”

New name for an old city. (Photo: The Guardian)

Mexico has rechristened its capital city, embracing the name by which it is known worldwide, but causing a conundrum for residents who for decades have referred to the sprawling megalopolis as the Federal District – or “DF”

President Enrique Peña Nieto officially changed the capital’s name to “Mexico City” on Friday January 29th as part of a reform to devolve power from the federal government, allowing the city’s mayor to name senior officials including the police chief.

It also turns the capital’s 16 boroughs into entities similar to municipalities, with their own mayors and councils.

The reform moves Mexico City – the area of nearly nine million people surrounded on three sides by the grungy suburbs of Mexico State – closer towards becoming a state in its own right.

But analysts say the devil remains in the details, which will be enshrined in a new constitution.

“This is an administrative reform more than anything,” said Adrián Rueda, local politics columnist in the Excélsior newspaper.

Rueda expects the new constitution to keep the city’s liberal provisions for same-sex marriages and decriminalized abortions (a procedure outlawed in more than half of Mexico’s 31 states).

New name for an old city. (Photo: The Guardian)
New name for an old city. (Photo: The Guardian)

Campaigners – mostly on the left – started pushing for an end to the Federal District after the devastating 1985 earthquake, after an inept federal response left millions to fend for themselves. Leftwing movements rose from the wreckage, achieved political reforms and won the first mayoral and assembly elections in 1997.

They subsequently went about rebranding the capital, “Mexico City” – at least informally – in an attempt at showing autonomy, says Ilán Semo, political historian at the Iberoamerican University.

The name “Mexico City” predates the country. And people in the provinces – often resentful of the capital in Mexico’s heavily centralised system – refer to it simply as “Mexico”.

Some analysts warned of potential confusion caused by adding a capital called “Mexico City,” to a country already named Mexico, whose biggest state is the “State of Mexico”.

“It reflects our lack of imagination,” said sociologist Rodolfo Soriano Núñez, adding, “You don’t build identity by decree.”

Mexico City residents commonly call themselves, “Defeños”, “Capitalinos”, and, “Chilangos”, though memes appeared with new names such as, “Traficalinos”, a nod to the city’s crushing traffic.

Some say giving up the “DF” moniker will take time.

“It will never stop being ‘DF’ in our daily language,” said Juancho Nuñez, a DJ and lifelong Mexico City resident.

“Chilangos will always be ‘Defectuoso’,” he added, referring to a word play combining “defective” and “DF”.