In earlier posts, we’ve taken a quick look at typical Spanish-language place names (toponyms) and also some common indigenous place name elements. But what about those place names that do not match any of the expected categories?
My personal favorites in this category include the railway stations of Honey in the state of Puebla (named for a famous railroad engineer) and Wadley in the state of San Luis Potosí. The latter is particularly strange since the letter w does not belong to the Spanish alphabet. I’ve never been able to identify the origin of the name Wadley with any certainty, but for one possible explanation, see Mexico has many “Est”raordinary railway places.
Another example of an unusual name is that given to one of the sharpest curves on the Mexico City to Cuernavaca highway — La Curva de la Pera, which means “The Curve of the Pear”. The derivation of this name for a bend in the road that loops back on itself is fairly self-evident. Here’s hoping that your vacation after navigating past this bend does not end up being similarly “pear-shaped”!
Many similar instances of how names were allocated, and examples where place names proved critical to legal issues, are given in Raymond Craib’s excellent “Cartographic Mexico, a history of state fixations and fugitive landscapes” (Duke University Press, 2004). This is a perceptive study of the relationships between history and geography in Mexico from the mid-19th century until about 1930. Craib emphasizes the significance of map-making in post-Independent Mexico as a means towards furthering nationalism and as a development tool. He also traces the changing motives of map-makers, focusing especially on the key area of Veracruz-Puebla which served as Mexico’s main gateway to Europe for centuries. One case study examines a mining area where the granting of water rights hinged on precisely where a particular river flowed, and which tributary was which. This proved to be a case where cartographic ‘proof’ was impossible to find, and a pragmatic solution was required.
For a more complete explanation of some of Mexico’s place names, see “Mexico’s place names and their meanings” on MexConnect.