Have you ever wondered the meaning of the names of the towns in the Yucatan Peninsula? Here we tell you.
Our towns and cities.
Mexico is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. According to the last INEGI population census, almost 127 million souls live in this “navel of the moon” (meaning of the word Mexico), of which 7,364,645 people speak an indigenous language as their first language, in addition to Spanish. These are organized in 11 linguistic families and derive in 364 dialectal variants. There are 68 native indigenous peoples in our country, each speaking their own language. The two with the most significant number of people are Nahuatl and Mayan. Unfortunately, languages such as Zapotec or Ku’ahl and Kiliwa belong to 60% of native languages in danger of extinction.
We in the Yucatan Peninsula are fortunate to have still a living, complex and rich language, the Mayan. We find it every day in the way we speak. We mix Spanish with Mayan in our expressions, it is present in our surnames, in the names of trees or flowers, in our towns, and it is so normal to us that we do not even realize it, hence when people from outside Yucatan come to live here, sometimes they feel that we speak to them in “Martian.”
The Yucatan Peninsula is divided into three states: Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo. A considerable number of the towns in this piece of paradise on earth continue with their names -which, although they have mutated from the original ones- their origin dates back to before the arrival of the Spaniards. But, as it is impossible to name them all, today, I will list some of them and their meaning.
Campeche: Its original name was “Ah Kim Pech,” which mutated to “Canpech” and eventually Campeche. In the Mayan language, it means “place of snakes and ticks .” It is estimated that it was founded in 300 AD, and with the arrival of the conquistadors, it was the first town founded in the Yucatan Peninsula, officially on October 4, 1540. It was elevated to the category of the city by the Royal Decree of Carlos III in October 1777.
Calkiní: A beautiful city in the state of Campeche, in the region known as “Camino Real .”According to the “Codex of Calkiní,” the town was founded by Tzab Canul, the eldest of nine brothers of the “Ah Canul” lineage after the destruction of Mayapán. Its name in Maya means “Throat of the Sun .”It is composed of the words “Cal” (throat), “Kin” (sun), and the suffix “i,” which is equivalent in Spanish to the preposition “de.”
Cancun – The “Mexican Caribbean” jewel has an extraordinary name whose meaning is still debated today. For a long time, it was thought that the meaning of Cancun was “nest of vipers,” and it was said to come from the Mayan words in Mayan: Kaan (snake) and kuum (pot or nest); however, other linguists, among them, anthropologist Juan Ramon Bastarrachea, a specialist in the Mayan language, mentions that the word Cancun could be derived from the word “kaank’ un,” which means “Place of the Golden Snake .” However, a more recent theory exposed by a group of linguists and researchers concluded that the Mayan word for Cancun refers to an environmental space and that its meaning is “Four-pots,” in reference to the lagoons that surrounded the island (yes… Cancun was an island), therefore, its translation, according to these linguists and researchers, could be “place of the four lagoons.”
Cozumel: It is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. Some consider it one of the most beautiful and historically rich islands globally. Cozumel has Mayan vestiges, soft white sand beaches, unparalleled sunsets, and coral reefs that harbor phenomenal underwater life. This beautiful and iconic island of the Yucatan Peninsula was the place of worship of the goddess Ix Chel, lady of floods, fertility, the moon, and patron saint of pregnant women. Cozumel comes from the Mayan word “Kuzamil,” which, in turn, is said to come from the Mayan words “Kosom, Lumil,” meaning “Land of swallows.”
According to the researcher and historian, Dr. Jorge Victoria Ojeda, one of the most popular versions says a Spaniard questioned a Mayan to know the name of the region, to which the native answered “Ma’anaatik ka t’ann,” which in Yucatecan Mayan language means “I don’t understand you .”Another version indicates that the Spaniards gave the name Yucatan to the region because the Maya answered their questions with the expression “Uh yu ka t’ann,” which in Maya means “listen to how they speak,” and the Spaniards understood Yucatan.
Tahmek – The town of the unique song of “Puruxón Cauich, born in Tahmek, who fell in love with Xpet, a native of X’thó” comes from the words: “t’a’aj” (strong in Spanish) and méek’, (which means embrace) when the words are joined together, it means “strong embrace .” Tahmek, before the conquest, belonged to the chiefdom of Hocabail-Humún, governed by the Maya chieftain Nacú-Iut.
I ask you, dear reader: after this little bit of history about some of the many names of our peninsular populations, how can you not be in love with a living, rich, mystical, and even magical language that is part of universal history?
See you next week.