Before we go into the origin of the word Yucatan, it is important to define where the Yucatan is. When looking at a map of Mexico, specifically the eastern part on the Caribbean side of Mexico, there are two areas that are referred to as the Yucatan, the state of Yucatan and the Yucatan peninsula.
Yucatan Peninsula and the State of the Yucatan
The state of the Yucatan is in the southwest part Mexico. The capital city is Merida and is surrounded by the neighboring states of Campache to the west and Quintana Roo (Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chetumal) to the east and north. The Gulf of Mexico borders the southern portion of the state. The state has a large population of Mayan communities and has architectural influences in the larger cities from the Spanish. Unlike Quintana Roo, The State of the Yucatan has a long and colorful history that is fascinating, too deep to tackle in this blog post.
The Yucatan Peninsula is the entire Peninsula (land Mass) that includes the following states; Campeche, Yucatan. Quintana Roo, land . When the Spaniards landed on Mexican soil in the southeastern part of Mexico they named the entire area that is now three states the Yucatan Peninsula. After many wars and the independence of the area in the 1800’s the Peninsula was separated into states with one state retaining the original name of the area, the state of the Yucatan.
Where did the term Yucatan come from
There are many theories as to where the name Yucatan came from. The common theme between the theories is the Spanish interpretation of what the Mayans were saying. One theory states that when the Spanish asked what is the name of the area when first landing in Mexico in the 1500’s the Maya, responding in Maya said, we don’t understand your language. The Spanish then assumed that the answer to their question was the name of the state and it was then called the Yucatan based on the Spanish pronunciation of the Mayan words that were spoken.
Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500’s it is stated by historians that the area was called el Mayab, which when translated means a few. The area did have a few settled colonies Chitzen Izta, Ek Balam, and the Maya called it ‘the Few’ based on the various colonies that had been built.
More theories exist as to how the term Yucatan came into existence and it all boils down to miscommunication and not understanding the Mayan language. The Spanish name has now stuck and the area is still referred to as the Yucatan Peninsula (combined states in the area) and the state of the Yucatan. Though wars were fought to divide the area and state lines clearly have established the division of the area, many refer to the land mass as the Yucatan Peninsula.
Mexico has a fascinating history that we continue to read about and further our knowledge of the area. Is there an area of Mexican history that you would like us to write about. We love to be prompted find new facts and your suggests are welcome!
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