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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Jul 2017/6 Rain
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Article suitable for older students

Professor Andrew Laird

Question for June 2017

Why did the people not name Mexico after the Maya instead of after the Mexica/Aztecs? Asked by Allenbourn Middle School. Chosen and answered by Professor Andrew Laird.

A sculptural relief of the Mexican national shield with the legend ‘Estados Unidos Mexicanos’ (United Mexican States) on the reverse of a silver coin. Round the edge are the different national shields used throughout Mexico’s history
A sculptural relief of the Mexican national shield with the legend ‘Estados Unidos Mexicanos’ (United Mexican States) on the reverse of a silver coin. Round the edge are the different national shields used throughout Mexico’s history (Click on image to enlarge)

The name of today’s nation does indeed come from the Aztecs’ name for their city: Mexico-Tenochtitlan. After the Spanish conquest, the territory roughly corresponding to the country of Mexico as it is today was named ‘New Spain’ by Cortés. That name was used for 300 years, until the country finally won independence from Spain in 1821, when at first it became the ‘Mexican Empire’. For all that time Mexico City had remained the administrative and political centre of the region, as it still is today. So the whole country has rather oddly taken its name from its capital city (although it is officially called the ‘United Mexican States’). This has led to some difficulty and confusion: there is a city of Mexico, the local state in which that city is situated is also called ‘Mexico’, as is the entire nation which altogether includes 31 states, some of which are inhabited by peoples (including Mayans) whose ancestors may never even have heard of Mexico-Tenochtitlan or of the Aztecs. People who come from any part of this large country can now all be called Mexicans [mexicanos, mexicanas]; those who come from the central state of Mexico are called mexiquenses; and those who come from the city itself are often informally referred to as defeños or defeñas. That word is derived from the initials DF, the ‘postcode’ for Mexico City (an abbreviation for Distrito Federal as the modern capital is often known). There is a historical parallel for this unusual situation: not all the people who were called ‘Romans’ in the time of the Roman Empire actually came from Rome: they could come from other parts of Italy, or even from other regions of Europe, North Africa or Asia Minor.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Professor Andrew Laird has answered just this one question

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