Mexico - Etymology

Etymology

After New Spain won independence from Spain, it was decided that the new country would be named after its capital, Mexico City, which was founded in 1524 on top of the ancient Aztec capital of México-Tenochtitlan. The name comes from the Nahuatl language, but its meaning is unknown.

Mēxihco was the Nahuatl term for the heartland of the Aztec Empire, namely, the Valley of Mexico, and its people, the Mexica, and surrounding territories which became the future State of Mexico as a division of New Spain prior to independence (compare Latium). It is generally considered to be a toponym for the valley which became the primary ethnonym for the Aztec Triple Alliance as a result, or vice versa.

The suffix -co is the Nahuatl locative, making the word a place name. Beyond that, the etymology is uncertain. It has been suggested that it is derived from Mextli or Mēxihtli, a secret name for the god of war and patron of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli, in which case Mēxihco means "Place where Huitzilopochtli lives". Another hypothesis suggests that Mēxihco derives from a portmanteau of the Nahuatl words for "moon" (mētztli) and navel (xīctli). This meaning ("Place at the Center of the Moon") might then refer to Tenochtitlan's position in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The system of interconnected lakes, of which Texcoco formed the center, had the form of a rabbit, which the Mesoamericans pareidolically associated with the moon. Still another hypothesis suggests that it is derived from Mēctli, the goddess of maguey.

The name of the city-state was transliterated to Spanish as México with the phonetic value of the letter in Medieval Spanish, which represented the voiceless postalveolar fricative . This sound, as well as the voiced postalveolar fricative, represented by a , evolved into a voiceless velar fricative during the 16th century. This led to the use of the variant Méjico in many publications in Spanish, most notably in Spain, whereas in Mexico and most other Spanish–speaking countries México was the preferred spelling. In recent years the Real Academia Española, which regulates the Spanish language, determined that both variants are acceptable in Spanish but that the normative recommended spelling is México. The majority of publications in all Spanish-speaking countries now adhere to the new norm, even though the alternative variant is still occasionally used. In English, the in Mexico represents neither the original nor the current sound, but the consonant cluster .

The official name of the country has changed as the form of government has changed. On two occasions (1821–1823 and 1863–1867), the country was known as Imperio Mexicano (Mexican Empire). All three federal constitutions (1824, 1857 and 1917, the current constitution) used the name Estados Unidos Mexicanos—or the variants Estados Unidos mexicanos and Estados-Unidos Mexicanos, all of which have been translated as "United Mexican States". The term República Mexicana, "Mexican Republic" was used in the 1836 Constitutional Laws. On 22 November 2012, incumbent President Felipe Calderón sent to the Mexican Congress a piece of legislation to change the country's name officially to simply Mexico. To go into effect, the bill would have to be passed by both houses of Congress, as well as a majority of Mexico's 31 state legislatures. Coming with just a week to go before Calderón turns power over to president elect Enrique Peña Nieto, the president's critics see this as a symbolic gesture.

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