He’s a chart topper in Buenos Aires, and he graces the map throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Thanks to Kristine for suggesting the dashing Santiago as Baby Name of the Day.
It’s almost unbelievable that the elaborate Santiago is just another variant of the evergreen James. But while there’s more to his story, Santiago’s roots are with the saintly, enduring given name.
James may have morphed more than any name in history. Other variants covered at Appellation Mountain include:
The last two are rare in the US, but the Spanish variants are on the uptick. Diego appears in the US Top 100. Santiago has fared better than you might guess – he’s charted in the US Top 1000 most years since 1880, every year since 1906, and currently stands at #130. In 2009, he made it into the Top 100 of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.
The Hebrew Yaaqov is the original form. It’s no mystery how we arrived at Jacob and the Latin Iacobus. Iago evolved from the Latin.
Remember Sinjin, a mash-up of St. John sometimes given as a personal name? Saint Iago became Santiago. Split the name in a different place and you get Tiago, Diago, and Diego.
It’s not just a case of an influential saint’s name being translated into other languages, either. St. James was one of the Twelve Apostles, and his remains are said to rest in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. He’s patron saint to the nation, and for more than a thousand years, pilgrims have trekked the Way of St. James. There’s some evidence that the pilgrims were following an even older route. This fall, a new indie flick featuring Emilio Estevez centers on the pilgrimage route.
Despite the addition of the saintly prefix, Santiago was considered the equivalent of the James-names by the eighteenth century, when a French officer in Spanish military service, Jacques de Liniers, became known as Santiago de Liniers. He was a hero in his day, defending Buenos Aires from a British invasion.
Santiago also features in a trio of influential novels:
- Ernest Hemingway’s final novel, the Pulitzer-prize winning The Old Man and the Sea, was set in Cuba. The fisherman – Hemingway’s determined Old Man – was named Santiago;
- The immortal cast of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles includes Santiago;
- Then came Paulo Coelho’s 1988 international best seller, The Alchemist. Originally written in Portuguese, the new classic follows a shepherd named Santiago as he sets off on a vision quest to Egypt. Several attempts to adapt the book for the big screen have failed, but there’s another effort underway.
Notable Santiagos are many, but most hail from Spain or South America. Along with athletes and actors, there’s architect Santiago Calatrava and the early twentieth-century activist and Congressman Santiago Iglesias, from Puerto Rico.
But just like it might be a smidge off to name a non-Jewish daughter Shoshana, Santiago might be quite daring if you can’t claim Spanish descent. Maybe it’s not unthinkable – it is a place name found on three continents – but it would be unexpected. If boys can be Orlando and Romeo, why not Santiago?