Far Away Places With Strange Sounding Names: Enchanted — More or Less

Sierra Ladrones viewed from JA volcano

One thing I love about New Mexico is the sound of the place. The sound of the language, that is. Sure, we have a mix of cultures: “Anglo”, Hispanic and Indian. But there are more languages spoken than just three. I live in Rio Rancho near Bernalillo, an old Hispanic community where you commonly hear Spanish spoken almost everywhere. Bernalillo is sandwiched between Santa Ana Pueblo (Tamaya) and Sandia Pueblo. Sandia Pueblo’s native language is Tewa. Santa Ana’s language is Eastern Keres.  Those are only two of several NM Pueblo languages and dialects. Some of those are mutually unintelligible though they might share some words. There is also a Navajo reservation out to the west and the Zuni pueblo with separate and distinct languages.  You can walk into McDonalds or Burger King and hear three or four languages spoken all at once. I don’t know how the counter staff know when to speak English, Spanish or whatever  but they take a look at the person in line and just seem to know. Rio Rancho is sometimes called “Little New York” and you can often hear distinct New York or New Jersey accents. My retired neighbors are from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York (by way of New Orleans).

This is really no different from other places. Language and place names underscore the heritage of a place. I moved here from Missouri which had several native Indian populations: Osage, Sac and Fox, and the Missouri (People of the big canoe) tribes all left behind place names (HaHaTonka, Wakonda, Missouri, even). The early French settlers were masters at naming things. They must have spent days on end walking around naming things. There are a lot of Saints scattered around Missouri. Sainte Genevieve is the oldest town in the state.  They were miners (Mine à Breton, Valles Mines, Mine La Motte), trappers and traders (Femme Osage, Pomme de Terre, Gasconade) and farmers (Cote Sans Dessein, La Charette).  The Americans liked to name things after places they just left (Richmond, New London, Rolla [that’s Raliegh misspelled], Springfield) or places with high hopes (Commerce, Kansas City). Americans had a hard time with some of the older French and Indian names. Joachim Creek became “Squashum” creek.  Aux Arc became Ozark.

The same challenges awaited the Americans when they arrived in New Mexico, beginning in the 1820s with the Santa Fe Trail. Many of these were the same Missouri traders who couldn’t figure out how to speak French and had just as much trouble with Spanish. It is still a challenge today for new arrivals in the Land of Enchantment.  Here’s a quick test…how many syllables are in Abiquiu?

My cousins came to visit from  and we spent time at JA, El Malpais, Kasha-Katuwe, Walatowa, Placitas, Pena Blanca and Algodones. They went on a side trip to Taos through Pojoaque, Chimayo, Trampas and Espanola. The hardest part was knowing which syllable has the accent.


Albuquerque has it’s own peculiarity in language. It is named after Francisco, Duke of Alburquerque, one-time Spanish Viceroy of New Spain. I’m sure you will notice that prominent mustache — I’ve been trying to grow one like that to no avail. But also notice that there is another ‘r’ in his name: Alburquerque.  Albuquerqueans or, more commonly, Burqueños, struggled with that first ‘r’ and dropped it but it hangs on in Burqueños. Sometimes you will hear someone still pronounce that first ‘r’.  The city of Albuquerque is a sister city to Alburquerque, in Spain, perhaps out of guilt for dropping the ‘r’.

The common language in Albuquerque is often some variation of Spanglish. It is a crazy mix of words on advertising and some street signs….but it works. What is also interesting is that you can take your sweetie out for “Valentimes Day” and get a nice “sangwich” and just “conversate” while the kids enjoy a cold glass of “melk“. You might not hear all of that at once but, until you get used to it, your brain will pick up on the little language twists.

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