General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 1 Mar 2021/6 Grass
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Aztecs migrating (Codex Boturini)

Who were the Mexica?

The Aztecs never called themselves ‘Aztecs’, but rather ‘Mexica’ (the origin of the name Mexico). (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Others called them ‘Aztecs’, referring to the legendary home of the Aztecs in the far north of Mexico, ‘Aztlan’. (Image from the Codex Boturini)

painting of a white heron by a child artist at the River Gallery School, Vermont
painting of a white heron by a child artist at the River Gallery School, Vermont (Click on image to enlarge)

Aztlan, incidentally, means ‘Place of the Herons’ - a white aquatic bird: so white was a symbolic colour for them. And there’s an expression in Náhuatl, ‘Noyollo iztaya’, ‘my heart becomes white’, which means being happy because a longed-for desire has come true (‘A Scattering of Jades’, ed. Timothy J. Knab)

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: The key here, surely, is respect, on both sides. We must be aware that the term ‘Aztec’ is a bit of a misnomer, popularized by the historian William H Prescott in his classic work ‘History of the Conquest of Mexico’ in 1843. It’s a vague term that tends to cover all the peoples who began migrating from the mythical Aztlan to the Basin of Mexico in the 12th century, including the Mexica who later founded Tenochtitlan. To that extent we should all try to be more precise, and use the name Mexica as often as possible to educate people generally who may not have heard the term.
Equally, purists must accept that, especially teaching about these peoples in far-away Europe (or wherever), the term ‘Aztec’ is still a very useful and simple term, and the general public relates to it immediately where they don’t on hearing the term Mexica.
To us it seems too heavy-handed to dismiss the term Aztecs altogether, but we must take on board where it came from and its built-in weaknesses.