Sotomayor and Iraan.

Two interesting etymologies I recently learned:

1) My wife asked me “What does the name Sotomayor mean?” A bit of googling produced the answer:

Spanish: Castilianized form of a habitational name from either of two places in Pontevedra and Ourense provinces Galicia named Soutomaior from Galician souto ‘grove[,] small wood’ + maior ‘larger[,] main’.

And souto is from Latin saltus ‘forest.’

2) Songdog alerted me to the Texan town of Iraan (/ˌaɪrəˈæn/ EYE-rə-AN): “The city’s name is an amalgamation of the first names of Ira and Ann Yates, owners of the ranch land upon which the town was built.” (After a century, the reason it’s Iraan and not Iraann is probably unrecoverable.)


  1. cuchuflete says

    Backing up what LH has posted:


    SOUTO : Apellido portugués, es un topónimo derivado del latín saltus, que podría tener dos significados: una quebrada o una zona boscosa. En general, es esta última acepción la que debería conservarse. Forma española: Soto. Formas compuestas: Sotomayor, nombre de una localidad de Galicia (provincia de Pontevedra), en gallego Soutomaior.

    Translated by DeepL:

    Portuguese surname, it is a toponym derived from the Latin saltus, which could have two meanings: a ravine or a wooded area. In general, the latter meaning should be kept. Spanish form: Soto. Composite forms: Sotomayor, name of a town in Galicia (province of Pontevedra), in Galician Soutomaior.

    All of the above assumes that souto is a Portuguese word. My Galego friends would beg to differ, insisting that it is galego (gallego in Spanish),or Gallician in English. Those who have even a smidgen of wisdom will avoid taking sides in any such dispute between português and galego speakers.

  2. It actually was Iraann originally. For example the El Paso Herald of 7 May 1928 has a small item that says, “A year ago, Iraann, Texas existed only separatly as the first names of Iran [sic] and Ann Yates on whose drought-stricken cattle range was discovered. Now Iraann is a thriving town; so thriving, in fact, that her post-office is to be advanced on July 1 from fourth class to the presidential grade.”

    But earlier that year, when the post office was actually named, the N was lost in the mail. On 6 January 1928, The El Paso Evening Post published this dispatch: “WASHINGTON — Iraan, Texas, is to get a post office and post master, Rep. Claude Hudspeth was informed by the postoffice department today.”

    By the end of 1928, the occasional ambiguity in the name disappeared from newspaper reports and the town became Iraan consistently. It was not unusual in those days for the Post Office to have its own ideas on how to spell the name of a town, either for its own reasons (they often changed the suffix “borough” to “boro”) or by mistake, as may have been the case here.

    By the way if you Google a bit, you’ll discover that Iraan was the birthplace of Alley Oop, the comic strip, and can be pronounced either like the country Iran, or as “Ira-Ann.”

  3. Wow, thanks for that unexpected further information!

  4. Town portmanteaus are a thing. My favorites are Bimble and Clemretta.

    It turns out that Palmdale, MN, is not named for the world-famous Minnesota Palm trees, and Snowflake, AZ, is not named for the snow (which actually does fall there).

  5. Bimble and Clemretta are wonderful — thanks for that!

  6. And Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis is not lined with crab shacks and surf shops.

  7. Dona Maria Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor (immortalized as the teenaged lady in waiting holding the tray in Las Meninas) was from Galicia.

  8. That list doesn’t include Sydney’s Lidcombe – from two mayors named Lidbury and Larcombe. This name was adopted to replace the existing name Rookwood, to distinguish the area from the necropolis also known by that name.

    The name Rookwood itself was introduced only 37 years earlier, reportedly for the same reason that the former name Haslams Creek was too widely associated with the cemetery, although a name so similar to Brookwood, hone of the London Necropolis, was perhaps not the best choice if that was the motivation.

  9. Swanlinbar

    Jonathan Swift in his 1728 essay, On Barbarous Denominations In Ireland, wrote:

    “There is likewise a famous town, where the worst iron in the kingdom is made, and it is called Swandlingbar: the original of which name I shall explain, lest the antiquaries of future ages might be at a loss to derive it. It was a most witty conceit of four gentlemen, who ruined themselves with this iron project. ‘Sw’ stands for Swift (Swift’s uncle, Godwin Swift, for whose memory he had no special regard, was the instigator of the ironworks and the person named. He lost his fortune due to the mismanagement of the business), ‘And’ stands for Sanders (Robert Saunders of Dublin), ‘Ling’ for Darling (Richard Darling of Dublin), and ‘Bar’ for Barry (Richard Barry). Methinks I see the four loggerheads sitting in consult, like Smectimnius, each gravely contributing a part of his own name, to make up one for their place in the iron-work; and could wish they had been hanged, as well as undone, for their wit.”

  10. The “barbarous denominations” category in Wikipedia wasn’t eliminated until the late 1800s.

  11. Swandlingbar

    a clear ancestor of Jujamcyn!

    (dith)(es)(thia), if you want to keep score.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Swandlingbar seems to imply a verb “to swandle,” somehow intermediate between “swaddle” and “swindle,” but I have in an admittedly cursory google found no evidence, other than an anecdote in an 1877 magazine in which an old woman complains that she has been “swindled and swandled all [her] lifetime,” which seems a nonce use.

    “Swandle” has apparently been extant as a (fairly rare) surname, whose etymology is not immediately obvious to me.

  13. Keith Ivey says

    For those who like me had not heard of Smectimnius, Wikipedia says: “Smectymnuus was the nom de plume of a group of Puritan clergymen active in England in 1641. […] The name is an acronym derived from the initials of the five authors: Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow.”

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