Origin of the name Yucatán

When Hernandez de Cordova arrived to the coast of the Yucatán, he asked the inhabitants the name of this land and when they answered him, speaking very rapidly, in their native language "Tetec dtan" "Ma t natic a dtan" which just means "you speak very rapidly; we don't understand your language." The Spaniards understood the local inhabitants were telling them the name of the land. However, having difficulty pronouncing these words exactly, they ended up calling the place: Yucatán.

Another version that historians tell is that while the conquerors were exploring the coast, when they asked the locals something, they would answer (once again, in Mayan): "Tolo' quin dtan" and point to the place, making them understand "further on I'm telling you, keep going."

A third version explains that when the conquerors arrived the natives had women's necklaces in their hands. While the conquerors were interested in knowing the name of the place and the Indians realized they were being asked a question, they understood they were being asked about the necklaces to which they answered "U Yu c-atan" ("these are the necklaces of our wives.")

And yet one more version explains that when the Spaniards asked what the people of this place are called, the Mayan answered “Yucatán” which means “I’m not from here.”

"A Philology of 1890"
Part of the book Estudio Filologico Sobre el Nombre de America y el de Yucatán was written by the Bishop of Yucatán Dr. don Crescencio Carrillo y Ancona (1837-1897). Dr. Carrillo y Ancona formed the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics; the American Ethnological Society of New York; the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, and other national and international scientific institutions.

This author, while studying the speculations of the above-mentioned theories researched during the previous three centuries, came to the conclusion that the origin of the name of Yucatán is really not known. He says, "it is none other than the contraction of syncope, a figure used in the Mayan language, of the original Yucalpetén."

With hopes of backing up this information, he used old manuscripts from the Chumayel Codices, one of the books of the Chilam Balam or Mayan Calendar. In these works Yucatán is mentioned synonymously with Yucalpetén.

So that there is no doubt about the above, various examples are cited, among them, "1519, lay u habil yan ca ulci mlob uay tac cahal coon Itza, uay ti luun Yucalpeten: Yucatan, tu than maya ah Itzaob lae" ("it was the year 1519 when the Spaniards arrived to this country or nation of the Itzá and this land of Yucalpetén, that is, Yucatán, the way the Mayas Itzaez say it").

In the next study Dr. Carrillo y Ancona ratifies his complete accordance that Yucatán and Yucalpetén are synonyms, saying that the last is the real ethnological origin of the first. He also comments on the hypothesis that the Spaniards, while pronouncing the word Yucalpetén said Yucatán because it was easier for them to say.

Yucalpetén = Yucatán
Dr. Carrillo y Ancona, in trying to wrap up his theory, did a literal translation of the two words. While translating Yu-Cal-Peten he noted that Yu means pearl or collar; Cal, of the neck, and Peten, of the land or continent.

In relation to Yuc c atan, he said that this name (used by the family Itzá before the Conquest, according to the above mentioned Chumayel Codices) literally means "the pearl or necklace of our wives."

He goes on to explain that in the second case, in the peten (land or continent) "atan" (wife), is considered to be "the mother of the family", "the representative of the land or that the children of the land are the most important jewel, the richest pearl on the neck of the wife."
And there can't be a better ending than that of his large and well founded arguments on this theme.
"This seems like a romantic creation, but we tell you dear reader, we have not invented this, we have found that it all has its own sense, when you see the rich language of the Maya whose most famous city had the historical name Mayapán, which means "the flag of the Maya."

Text: Yurina Fernandez Noa

Email: [email protected]


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