When Hernández de Córdova arrived to the coast of the Yucatán, he asked the inhabitants the name of this land and when they answered him, speaking very rapidly, in their native language, they said “Tetec dtan” “Ma t natic a dtan” which just means “you speak very rapidly; we don’t understand your language.” The Spaniards understood the local inhabitants were telling them the name of the land. However, having difficulty pronouncing these words exactly, they ended up calling the place: Yucatán.
Another version that historians tell is that while the conquerors were exploring the coast, when they asked the locals something, they would answer (once again, in Maya): “Tolo’ quin dtan” and point to the place, making them understand “further on I’m telling you, keep going.”
A third version explains that when the conquerors arrived, the Mayas had women’s necklaces in their hands. While the conquerors were interested in knowing the name of the place and the Mayas realized they were being asked a question, they understood they were being asked about the necklaces to which they answered “U Yu c-atan” (“these are the necklaces of our wives.”)
And yet one more version explains that when the Spaniards asked what the people of this place are called, the Mayas answered “Yucatán” which means “I’m not from here.”
Trying to make sense of these hilarious versions of historical events is not easy.
The book “Estudio Filológico Sobre el Nombre de América y el de Yucatán” was written by the Bishop of Yucatán Dr. Don Crescencio Carrillo y Ancona (1837-1897). This author, while studying the speculations of the above-mentioned theories researched during the previous three centuries, came to the conclusion that the origin of the name of Yucatán is “none other than the contraction of the original Yucalpetén.”
Dr. Carrillo y Ancona, in trying to wrap up his theory, did a literal translation of the words. While translating Yu-Cal-Peten he noted that Yu means pearl or collar; Cal, of the neck; and Peten, of the land or continent. In relation to Yuc c atan, he said that this name literally means “the pearl or necklace of our wives.”
In conclusion: the third theory may be the correct one…or maybe not!