Yucatán - Toponymy


The name Yucatán, also assigned to the peninsula, came from early explorations of the Conquistadors from Europe. There are reliable versions that the name was result from confusion between the Mayan inhabitants and the first Spanish explorers around 1517:

  • According to one of them, was the answer of a Mayan indigenous to the question of a Spanish explorer, since he wanted to know the name of the region. The Mayan probably replied Ma'anaatik ka t'ann which means in the Maya language I do not understand your speech or I do not understand you.
  • It is also said that the Spaniards gave the name of Yucatán to the region, because the Mayan answered their questions with the phrase uh yu ka t'ann, in Mayan language means hear how they talk.

Probably the first narrator's of "I do not understand" version was the friar Toribio de Benavente, in his book Historia de los indios de la Nueva España (History of the Indians of New Spain) says:

"because talking with those Indians of the coast, whatever the Spanish asked the Indians responded: «Tectetán, Tectetán», which means: «I don't understand you, I don't understand you»: ...they corrupted the word, and not understanding what the Indians said, they said: «Yucatán is the name of this land»; and the same happened in a place..., a cape, which they also called cape Cotoch; and Cotoch in that language means house".

Another version is from Bernal Díaz del Castillo. In his book Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (True History of the Conquest of New Spain), he says Yucatá means "land of yucas", a plant that was cultivated by the Maya and was an important food source for them.

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