General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Dr. John F. Schwaller

Question for August 2011

Why is the emperor called Montezuma [in England] and not Moctezuma? Asked by Woodville Primary School. Chosen and answered by Dr. John F. Schwaller.

Drawing of Motecuhtzoma Xocoyotzin by Ignacio Romerovargas Yturbide, based on image in the Madric Codex fol. 51
Drawing of Motecuhtzoma Xocoyotzin by Ignacio Romerovargas Yturbide, based on image in the Madric Codex fol. 51 (Click on image to enlarge)

This question takes us back to what the original name was. There were two Aztec emperors (huey tlahtoani) who had this name. The name in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, was originally Moteuctzoma, also spelled Motecuhtzoma. His name means “He who scowls in lordly anger.” The first emperor of this name had a second name of Ilhuicamina, “He shoots arrows in the sky.” The emperor at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, was known as Xocoyotzin, “The honored younger one.” So they were Motecuhtzoma Ilhuicamina, and Motecuhtzoma Xocoyotzin.

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they had difficulty in learning the Nahuatl language. They copied names down as best they could, but sometimes they got it slightly wrong. For example, Cuauhnahuac (the place surrounded by trees, or where you can hear trees) became Cuernavaca (Spanish for cow’s horn). In early histories of the conquest, the Spanish called the emperor Mutezuma, Moctezuma, Montezuma, and other variants on what they thought they heard. Over the course of time, in Spanish, folks tended to settle on Moctezuma, which is slightly closer to the original name. In English, we ended up with a slight variant which contains what linguists call an intrusive “n;” that’s when people add the “n” sound to a word where is doesn’t really exist. It is found in English words like messenger, one who carries a message.

Image scanned from Relaciones de Hernán Cortés edited by Eulalia Guzmán, Libros Anahuac, Mexico City, 1958

Moctezuma, Montezuma, Motecuhzoma?

Dr. John F. Schwaller has answered 7 questions altogether:

Why did the Aztecs only use wheels for toys and not for transport?

Do we only get food words or are there other English words derived from the Aztec language?

How many words were there in the Aztec language?

Why didn’t the Aztecs ask their gods to save them?

Is Náhuatl taught in Mexican schools today?

Why is the emperor called Montezuma [in England] and not Moctezuma?

Did the Aztecs say a prayer before eating?

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