New Mexico October 04, 2017
Most People Don’t Know The Meaning Behind These 16 New Mexico Towns
New Mexico is full of little towns, and even some big ones, with names that will make you stop and look twice… and then wonder, “WHAT were they thinking?” Many of the town names in New Mexico come from Spanish and Native American words, family names, land features, and a few misspellings. So while these names often make sense, in the end, you always have to wonder what, exactly, got lost in translation. Here are 17 of the more unusual New Mexico town names and the stories behind them.
1. Albuquerque (Bernallio County)
The short version of the Albuquerque story is that the city was named for the Spanish administrator and viceroy of Mexico, Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque. Note the second R in Alburquerque That R got dropped in the 1800s. The meaning of
Alburquerque may come from the Arabic, meaning white oak.
2. Brilliant (Colfax County)
Like many places that are now a ghost town, this place was a mining town (Brilliant Mine 1906). Allegedly, the name comes from the brilliant luster of the local coal.
3. Carrizozo (Lincoln County)
This railroad town was originally called Carrizo Flats, named for the nearby
Carrizo (or reed grass) River. The extra "zo" was added to signify the abundance of the area.
4. Chilili (Bernallio County)
Chilili is not a corruption of "chili." It's its own word, from a Pueblo language meaning something like weak spring or barely trickling water.
5. Cleveland (Mora County)
San Antonio lo de Mora, this town changed its name to Cleveland in 1892 when it applied for a post office. The name was chosen in honor of President Grover Cleveland.
6. Dusty and Polvadera (Socorro County)
Sometimes it seems that almost any city in New Mexico could be called "dusty," but there are actually
two dusty places, both in Socorro County - Dusty and the nearby, Polvadera (the Spanish word for dusty). Both are unincorporated communities.
7. Las Trampas (Taos County)
No, the name doesn't mean beaver. But the town could have been named after beaver traps (
trampas). The town was christened after St. Thomas, Apostle of the River of Traps.
8. High Rolls (Otero County)
Most commonly, it is believed that High Rolls got its name from the sloping grade of the land. Another theory is that the "rolls" refer to rapids on the nearby Fresnal Creek.
9. Pie Town (Catron County)
If you had to name a place after your best dish, what would it be? This pretty much sums up Pie Town's name: a place with awesome pies.
10. Santa Fe (Santa Fe County)
Since this is the state capitol, you should know this one. Santa Fe means "holy faith." Santa Fe's full name, by the way, is
La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. That translates to Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.
11. Swastika (Colfax County)
The swastika is a symbol used in cultures across the world. Before the bad guys got ahold of this symbol, it actually stood for things like abundance and prosperity -- thus a fitting name for a mining camp (now a ghost town). The town, however, changed its name to Brilliant II in 1940.
12. Thoreau (McKinley County)
This town was named after poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. However, the name is pronounced thuh-Roo, with local history claiming the town was named after a town administrator.
13. Truth or Consequences (Sierra County)
Yep, just like the old TV game show. Once called Hot Springs, the town voted to change its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 after the TV show's host, Ralph Edwards said he would broadcast a show from a town willing name itself after the show. Keeping his promise, the show broadcast from Truth or Consequences, NM in April, 1950.
14. Tucumcari (Quay County)
There is a cute story about a chief's daughter named Kari and her true love, Tocum, but it's just not true. The name most likely comes from a Plains Indian word meaning lookout.
15. Questa (Taos County)
The name Questa is a corruption of
cuesta, which means slope or hill. By the way, Questa was originally named San Antonio del Rio Colorado.
16. Zuzax (Bernallio County)
Does your head turn every time you pass the sign for this town? It's supposed to. This name was made up by
a businessman to attract attention to his curio shop along Route 66.
There are plenty of towns in the state with crazy names and, of course, we can’t list them all here. But if you have some funny names to add to the list – and better yet, the story behind them, we would love to hear about them in the comments below!
Note: Much of the source material for this post came from
The Place Names of New Mexico, by Robert Julyan.