Today’s feature is a pan-botanical from down Mexico way.
Thanks to Katerina for suggesting Xochitl as our Baby Name of the Day.
Let’s start here, because the pronunciation of this name keeps tripping me up.
I’ve heard a crazy easy – and completely non-intuitive version – SO shee or SO chee. The latter brings to mind Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 winter games.
Except I’m not sure that’s quite right. When I listen to the pronunciations here, there is the tiniest ‘tl’ sound at the end. SO shee til. Except the first syllable almost sounds like SHO instead of SO.
This is a tough one!
In simplest terms, Xochitl is the Nahuatl word for flower. That makes it a pan-botanical choice along the lines of Flora, and no surprise that it’s been adopted as a girl’s name.
And while we’re simpling things up, Nahuatl is the language of the Aztecs. It’s been spoken in Central Mexico for centuries, dating back to the Aztec Empire. Over 1.5 million Nahua people still speak some form of the language natively, and there are administrative documents and literary works dating back to the sixteenth century, when Nahuatl was first written in the Roman alphabet.
Of course, the language as spoken today wouldn’t seem very familiar to the ancient Aztecs. There’s lots of Spanish mixed in to Nahuatl, and lots of Nahuatl words used in Mexican Spanish. Some of those have filtered into English. Hello, avocado, chocolate, coyote, and tomato.
Originally, the Aztecs used ideograms to express their ideas in writing.
The picture here is the sign – the signo – for Xochitl as it appeared on the calendar.
But it isn’t just a symbol. Xochitl is associated with Xochiquetzal, the maiden. She’s the goddess of fertility, and a protector of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as traditionally feminine arts, like weaving.
Birds and butterflies followed and marigolds blossomed where she walked, which makes me think of her as a sort of ancient precursor to Snow White.
While many nature names are newer, Xochitl isn’t one of them. In the early twelfth century, Xochitl was a Queen of the Toltecs, the second wife of Tecpancaltzin.
Legend has it that she led women soldiers into battle personally, during an outbreak of civil war. Xochitl lost her life on the battlefield, as did her son, the last of the Toltec rulers.
It’s quite the tale, and very likely true. It was enough to earn Xochitl a place in the Heritage Floor of Judy Chicago’s major work celebrating extraordinary women, The Dinner Party.
Xochitl isn’t rare in the US. There were 191 girls given the name in 2004, and 103 girls in 2014 – meaning that it is slowly trending downwards.
But it must have had a good run in Mexico, and throughout Central and South America, many names from indigenous peoples have become mainstream.
Outside of the Latino world, there have been a few opportunities to hear the name: a third season Flavor of Love contestant by the name, a brand of tortilla chips. There’s also a singer-songwriter named Xochitl, who pronounces her name Sochee, sort of like the Olympics place name.
It makes for an interesting puzzle. On sound alone, Sochee could be an intriguing English-Spanish crossover possibility. And the story behind this name is fascinating, from the goddess to the courageous queen. But the spelling seems guaranteed to confuse.
Still, Xochitl could make a bold an fascinating choice for parents celebrating roots in Mexico.
What do you think of Xochitl? Do you think it would wear well in the US in 2015?
Peter Reyes says
I love this thanks
So I have been told I was named after a Spanish soap opera where the character was named Xochilt but my mother decided to change the spelling to Sochy! Pronounced So-Chee. Hard to say but I love it! I was born in 1978! Interesting to learn about my oficial name history 🙂
I would lump this with using the Gaelic spellings of names. For the most part, they don’t make sense phonetically in the english language. If the name is widely used and therefore the pronunciation is recognizable, then I don’t see an issue with using the traditional spelling. But if you have a problem constantly correcting people, maybe using an Anglicized spelling of the name would be a better option, something which has been done for centuries, although I can appreciate wanting to hold on to the name’s heritage, but only if it is a heritage choice.
KatieB, that is really well said! And yes, Gaelic names like Saoirse are a great comparison.
I love this name! Thanks for posting this Abby!
I like it, but I think it’s kind of inappropriate on someone without the heritage to back it up.
The only Xochitl I’ve known pronounces it with an almost “z” sound at the beginning. It sounds like “zo-cheet”
That’s interesting … it makes sense, but that ‘l’ at the end still trips me up!
I agree! And that “t” before the “L” is almost nonexistent when she says it, but it’s there.
I love it a lot, but I think the pronunciation issues would be pretty severe. I also think it might be TOO heritage for a white New Englander like me!
Christina Fonseca says
Spanish was my first language, my parents were born in Mexico. Every Xochitl I have known pronounces it very similar to Sochi, Russia, but with an “L” sound at the end – “tl” together is not easy to do in Spanish. The native speakers’ pronunciation has the Nahuatl pronunciation with the X having a “sh” sound.
I like the meaning and the sound, but think it’s safer as a middle name.
The tortilla bag says it’s pronounced “So-Chill”.