Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Greetings from hotel wireless Durango, Colorado. I’ve talked about naming and names before, as it’s a fascinating subject, and placenames can have equally interesting backgrounds. Today, while driving back from the Grand Canyon, I was struck with a wonderful example of painfully awkward naming that I just had to share with you all.

In extreme Southwestern part of Colorado (in the Four Corners region), there’s a smallish city named Cortez, Colorado. The city is named after Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who began the Spanish Colonization of the Americas.

The truly beautiful part of it all is that Cortez is the seat of Montezuma County. Montezuma County is named after Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor at the time of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, who met with Cortés, and who was eventually killed due to the actions of the Spanish. The actions of Cortés (and his men) destroyed Moctezuma, ended the Aztec empire, and marked the start of Colonialization of the Americas.

Maybe locals are aware of this irony, maybe they’re not. Perhaps nobody made the connection when naming the area, or maybe Cortez was named long before Montezuma County came into existence. Who knows, maybe the county was named to offset the honor given to Cortez. No matter what, I find it to be a sick sort of funny that Cortez presides over Montezuma even today.

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