General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Our In-House Team

Question for May 2010

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh? Asked by Gateway Primary School. Chosen and answered by Our In-House Team.

Illustration of Tonatiuh by Miguel Covarrubias, based on his image in the Codex Borgia
Illustration of Tonatiuh by Miguel Covarrubias, based on his image in the Codex Borgia (Click on image to enlarge)

Good question! Many know that the Mexica sun god’s name in their language, Náhuatl, was Tonatiuh; less well known is what this name means. Like many Náhuatl terms, it’s a composite word, made up of two shorter parts: tona, meaning ‘for the sun to shine’ (ie, to be a warm, sunny day), and the ending -tiuh, meaning to go, to do. As there is a strong sense of an active verb in the name, perhaps we should translate Tonatiuh as ‘To Go and Make the Sun Shine’. In this picture of Tonatiuh, adapted from the Codex Borgia, the great sun disk and its rays are clearly visible.

Sun and moon, painted ceramic specially created for Mexicolore by celebrated Mexican ‘Tree-of-Life’ artist Tiburcio Soteno
Sun and moon, painted ceramic specially created for Mexicolore by celebrated Mexican ‘Tree-of-Life’ artist Tiburcio Soteno (Click on image to enlarge)

Tonatiuh can also refer to an epoch, (world era) or ‘sun’, in the sense of the sequence of creations that the Mexica believed our world has been going through (we’re now in the fifth Aztec era, called ‘5-Movement’, so dramatically portrayed on the giant Sunstone).

Interestingly, in Nahua communities today the every-day word for a ‘day’ is a tonatiuh. So every day in the Aztec language is a Sun-day!

Info from:-
An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl by Frances Kartunnen, University of Oklahoma Press, 1992
Diccionario de la Lengua Nahuatl by César Macazaga Ordoño, Editorial Innovación, Mexico City, 1979
Picture sources:-
• Main picture scanned from The Aztecs: People of the Sun by Alfonso Caso, University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
• Tiburcio Soteno art: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Our In-House Team has answered 20 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs have different types of chewing gum to today’s?

Did the Aztecs have a god of snow?

Which parts of the Day of the Dead festival go back to the Aztecs?

Why did they put holes [gaps] in the [upright huehuetl] drums?

Was Snake Woman an Aztec empress?

How big was the Aztec army?

Did they have First Aid?

Which pet was the Aztecs’ favourite?

Why did they call them ‘chinampas’?

Did the Spanish have an interpreter when they conquered the Aztecs?

Which was the Aztecs’ most fearsome weapon?

Why was the Sun God called Tonatiuh?

Did they send post (mail)?

Did they have the same seasons as we do?

What did they do with the shells of armadillos after eating the meat?

Why didn’t Aztec houses have doors?

Which was the biggest group [job sector] in Aztec society?

Why is it better to support loads on the forehead and not on the shoulders?

When children were punished, how long were they held over smoking chillies for?

What was the Aztecs’ greatest fear?

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