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Etymology of Oaxaca

Oaxacan Statue of Xipe Totec
Oaxacan Statue of Xipe Totec

Say the word Oaxaca, pronounced wah-ha-ka, and immediately it conjures up images of beaches, archaeological finds, colonial architecture, folkart and crafts. Oaxaca is one of Mexico's prime destinations and a favorite tourist spot of visitors from around the world.

Few know, however, that the Oaxaca derives its name from something as humble as a tree! When the Atzecs reigned over these lands in the 15th to16th centuries they named the Central Valley around the capital "Huaxyacac", which roughly translates to "place of the huaje trees" in the Nahuatl language.

When Oaxaca was placed under the rule of Spanish forces in August 1521, the Spanish found "Huaxyacac" hard to pronounce. Little by little, the name evolved its present name Oaxaca, and the pronunciation of the x would change from "sh" to "j" which is considered modern Spanish.