While reading David Rieff’s NY Times Magazine article on Mexican politics, I was struck by a couple of names in this passage: “[López Obrador’s] economic team is led by Rogelio Ramírez de la O, a Cambridge-educated economist who is well respected in international business circles. And Carlos Slim, the telecom mogul who is Mexico’s richest man and the third-richest man in the world, has let it be known, without formally endorsing AMLO, that he finds nothing alarming about his candidacy.” Now Slim, while an unusual name for a Mexican, presumably reflects English ancestry, but I can make nothing of de la O. It’s a common surname, but I can find nothing about its origin except a suggestion on this page that it’s from “a place in Spain if I’m not mistaken, Palencia.. the name of the Church there is named after Our Lady… as Nuestra Senora de la O,” which makes no sense to me, and one here that it’s from a French name De l’Eau, which seems unlikely. Anybody have any information?

Update. The name turns out to come from the feast of the Expectation of Our Lady, the “O” coming from the expression of longing said in the office of the Mozarabic liturgy (see comments below); Sister Maria Philomena sent me a link to her post on the subject, which reproduces a poem by James J. Galvin, “Lady of O.” Thanks, Sister Maria!


  1. Margaret says

    Slim (name and person) is of Lebanese origin.

  2. The (apparently unrelated) English surname Slim is from OE slīm > ModE slime. So roughly like Marsh: your ancestors came from wetlands. Slim ‘slender’ is a Dutch import from surprisingly late in the 17th Century. (Dutch still has slijm and slim cognates, I believe.)

  3. Our Dutch slim means smart in English, so I cannot really follow your story. For slender we use slank or dun.

  4. José Figueroa says

    The name of Nuestra Señora de la O is quite common for churches both in Spain and in Latin America. In Spain they’re found all over the place: Galicia, Asturias, Andalucía,… One theory is that this is a popular name derived from the “O” with which the Magnificat antiphons start. See, for example, the bottom of this link

  5. John Emerson says

    It raises the spectre of a Senyora de la Et and various other ladies of first words of liturgical pieces. If I knew more Latin you could be sure that I would have conjured up a host of senyoras.

  6. Thanks, Margaret and José, for your correction and explanation respectively! I guess the Magnificat story makes more sense than anything else.

  7. bertil: I am very sorry that I did not do a good job of representing my source.
    I meant:
    The Modern English word “slim”, for which ‘slender’ is a synonynm, is from the Dutch. It is first attested in English in the later 17th Century, which is too late for it to be the source of this surname. (There is still a cognate slim in Modern Dutch, but it means something different.)
    Since I’ve started, here’s more.
    Etymologies: slime slim
    Earliest quotation:
    1657 G. THORNLEY Daphnis & Chloe 61 He’s small and slim, and so will slip and steal away.
    My understanding of the semantic space:
    OHG. *slimb is ‘bad’, ‘crooked’.
    German schlimm takes this in a further moral direction toward ‘evil’.
    Scandinavian slem is more toward the ‘worthless’.
    English has gone in a physical direction, ‘insubstantial’ toward ‘thin’, perhaps reinforced by the similar sounding ‘slender’. When applied to people, “slim” has even become positive. When applied to things, it is still somewhat negative, “slim chance”.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Dutch slim covers ‘shrewd’ as well as ‘smart’. So, it has shifted in valuation from negative to neutral or maybe even a little positive. Meantime it has focused the sense: ‘bad’ > ‘sly’ > ‘smart’.
    If you have access to a historical or etymological dictionary of Dutch, it may shed more light on what it meant a few hundred years ago. I could well be misunderstanding what I am finding. There is a Groot Woordenboek Der Nederlandse Taal at the public library, but in the reference stacks, so it’d take longer than I can wait to get out and I’d have to have guessed right which volume(s) I needed.

  8. In the Philippines, there is a tendency to “sandwich” the “de l/la/los/las” with the main surname. So de la Cruz becomes delaCruz or dela Cruz. So I googled to see if there were Filipinos with the surname DELAO. And sure enough, there are.
    If I were to encounter this name, I would assume that it’s pronounced like the Tagalog word for “yellow” – DILAW.
    FWIW – there are only three .PH sites, according to Google, which have “DE LA O” spelled out. And three for “DELA O.” But 10 for DELAO.

  9. Most famous Slim I know of is Field-Marshal William Slim, who led the British campaign in Burma during WWII.

  10. michael farris says

    “Most famous Slim I know of is Field-Marshal William Slim”
    Oh rub it in, the only Slim I can think of is Whitman … (it is embarrassing to be so uncultured)

  11. dearieme says

    Old Cambridge joke:-
    College Porter: “What is your name, sir?”
    New undergraduate: “O”.
    Porter: “That’s not a name, that’s a staircase.”

  12. Related to José’s answer, I’ve always had it from my mother that Our Lady of the “O” refers to the moment when the Virgin Mary saw his child for the first time after giving birth, and exclaimed “Oh!” in joy. In the link he provided it is said that Our Lady of the O is also know as Our Lady of the Expecting Birth. Maybe my mother’s explanation is borne out of folklore (since it’s more picturesque), and the Magnificat explanation is the most likely and cult (so to speak) one.

  13. And where does “the Story of O” come into this ?

  14. Paul Clapham says

    “Most famous Slim I know of is Field-Marshal William Slim”
    I expect his fame has been eclipsed nowadays by that of Fatboy Slim.

  15. Roger Depledge says

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, under Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, says
    “The feast of 18 December was commonly called, even in the liturgical books, “S. Maria de la O”, because on that day the clerics in the choir after Vespers used to utter a loud and protracted “O”, to express the longing of the universe for the coming of the Redeemer (Tamayo, Mart. Hisp., VI, 485). The Roman “O” antiphons have nothing to do with this term, because they are unknown in the Mozarabic Rite. This feast and its octave were very popular in Spain, where the people still call it “Nuestra Señora de la O”.
    I haven’t found what work “Mart. Hisp.” refers to.

  16. And where does “the Story of O” come into this ?
    Or indeed Heinrich von Kleist’s “Marquise von O”.

  17. Thanks, Roger — I think that can be called a definitive explanation. The source will be Juan Tamayo de Salazar, Martyrologium Hispanum (Lyon, 1651-59).

  18. E. Williams says

    French “de l’eau” (‘from, of or close to the water’) could indeed be a source for “de la O” in Spanish. People living close to a shore could have been referred to as “de l’eau” and the term might have entered the Peninsula via Catalan.

  19. Correspondent Dirk has sent me a link to this site, which has a similar French name:
    O, Ô Difficile de faire plus court! Le nom est porté en Belgique et pourrait être un toponyme à rapprocher de l’allemand Au (= prairie basse, saulaie). On pensera cependant plutôt à une variante de Ho, forme contractée de Hubo (voir ce nom).
    [It could hardly be any shorter! The name is used in Belgium and could be a toponym related to German Au ‘meadow.’ But it’s more likely a variant of Ho, a short form of Hubo (q.v.).]
    Hubo Porté en Belgique et dans le nord de la France, c’est un nom de personne d’origine germanique, sans doute hypocoristique de Hubert (voir ce nom).
    [Used in Belgium and the north of France, the name is of Germanic origin, doubtless a nickname for Hubert (q.v.).]

  20. Mary DeLaO rubio says

    My fathers name was Preciliano DeLaO was also called slim .

  21. Thanks for commemorating him here!

  22. Vincent Delao says

    The De La O name comes from Leon Spain it means that your from Leon Spain.

  23. marie-lucie says

    French last names

    I once had a classmate whose name was Deleau but I never thought of the obvious meaning of the name.

    I don’t think that any variety of French would have “de la eau”.


    In Normandy where I grew up there were a number of names of Germanic or “Norman” origin, many of them starting with H. Two that were particularly conspicuous were Hue and Hée. I don’t know any more about them.

  24. Jesus De La O Jr says

    My name is Jesus De La O Jr. I was born in McAllen, Texas. I was wondering how far back De La O goes to.

  25. The latest New Yorker has a poem by Marsha de la O.

  26. Regarding famous people named Slim, am I the only one who remembers UN secretary-general Mongi Slim? Another Arab, like Carlos Slim.

  27. President of the General Assembly, “Not to be confused with Secretary-General”

  28. CuConnacht says

    Genovevo de la O was an important figure in the Mexican Revolution, first serving under Zapata, and after Zapata’s murder, joining forces with Obregón.

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