New Mexico - what's the Straight Dope on its name?

So, why New Mexico? Were they trying to create a new version of Mexico?

Was it tied in with Texas? I know the early Texas settlers had a special agreement with Mexico. Agreeing to remain loyal and follow Mexico’s laws. I think the goal (from Mexico’s viewpoint) was a new Mexican state? That all fell apart after the Texans revolted and aligned with the US.

I’ve never heard how closely linked Texas and New Mexico were in their early history. New Mexico is formed from the big notch on Texas’ upper western border. They obtained statehood very late, in Jan 1912. Oklahoma (former Texas territory) became a state in Nov 1907.

What is the Straight Dope?

Spanish explorers in the late 16th century named the area Nueva Mexico after the Mexica Indian tribe and the name stuck.

At the risk of citing Wikipedia:

So it is something like the Spanish explorers saying, “you know those rich empires down south? I bet there are totes more of them here”. The term “Mexico” at that time referring to the local area around what is now Mexico city, rather than being the name of the entire Spanish colonial area.

The state got the name from the province after it was annexed by the US.

I had always thought New Mexico and Mexico had some previous connection. Glad to hear many others thought the same

Glad to get the actual answer.
Thank you.

Aceplace, you’re not the only one who thought that.

I used to live in Santa Fe. One weird aspect of living in New Mexico is that a surprising number of Americans do not believe it is part of the United States. Back when people used their telephones to order things from catalogs, it was fairly common to place an order only to be told "we don’t ship internationally when giving one’s address. Occasionally, the person on the other end just didn’t hear the “New” part of “New Mexico.” But more often, they insisted that NM was a foreign country and refused to place the order. Usually escalating to a manager solved the problem.

New Mexico Magazine has run a column for years chronicling these experiences.

Here is a map of the Mexican states and territories before the Texas rebellion. Notice that “Nuevo México” would have included not just most of modern USA’s New Mexico but also nearly half of what the Texas Republic would claim to be their territory. After the 1848 war the Southern part of the new territories plus the large portion of the Texas claim that was surrendered to the federal government in exchange for debt forgiveness, kept the New Mexico name.

The funny thing about New Mexico is how many Americans don’t even realize that it is one of the 50 states.

The name thing is actually a bit more complicated than that. The area was originally called New México, but this was a “usage name” without any specific administrative value or boundaries. The Royal Village of Saint Francis Assisi’s Blessed Faith (Santa Fe for short) was founded within that area. When the area was made a province, with Santa Fe as its capital, it got named after a combination of the name of the capital and that of the area.

Note that maps of mainland Spain for the same period in which New Mexico was given provincial status can be quite wobbly about the names of the provinces when they did not match those of their capitals; the same province will appear in some maps as Vizcaya and in others as Bilbao, and I haven’t seen any maps which called it “Vizcaya de Bilbao” but I’ve seen some which referred to the capital as “Bilbao de Vizcaya” (there is another?). Heck, even nowaday, I once received a letter from the city hall of Nules (Castellón) claiming it was from Nules (Castellón de la Plana): Castellón de la Plana is the name of the capital city of the province of Castellón.

What about the “other” states - New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey ?

Those were generally named after places in the Old World, although not always. For example, New York was named after the Duke of York, so it’s only named after York itself second-hand.

i lived in santa fe from 1998 to 2004 and it happened to me twice! the first time the woman taking my order laughed when she realized her mistake. the second time the guy flat out refused to believe me.


You know, I’ve heard this several times, and I’ve always thought it was a bit of a joke, as I’ve never come across anyone making that error. But now, reading through the thread and seeing more stories and links to examples of it, this appears to happen far more often than I would ever have guessed.

New Hampshire was named by by Captain John Mason who’d received a royal land grant for the area in 1629. He’d been born in Norfolk, England, but had fond memories of living as a child in Hampshire, so it became New Hampshire rather than New Norfolk.

New Jersey received its name from Sir George Carteret who had a royal charter to establish a colony and named it after the Channel Island in which he was born, Jersey.

New Mexico is the only state that has “USA” on its license plates.

They dropped it for the 2012 centennial series. It’s one reason I got the older yellow one last time I needed to get a plate.

It has always fascinated me, the bit about not recognizing that NM is an actual state… what, they can’t believe we’d keep the name? People in the 1840s were practical about such things, it seems.
But now I wonder if the same people conversely believe Baja California is a part of the US state of California. I bet there’s some who would.

Not even Monty Burns, apparently. “Whoa whoa whoa, slow down. There’s a New Mexico now?”

Naming countries can be a difficult challenge.

Three examples

Going a bit off-course; but a New Mexico-related matter which rather charms me, occurs in Harry Turtledove’s “Southern Victory” alternative-history series, in which the Confederacy wins the Civil War and secedes. In this “universe”, the remaining United States of America seems to go in for “fewer and bigger” states than is the case in “our time-line”: for instance, there is no state of Arizona – our Arizona and N.M., are all one state called New Mexico (as was in real life, per “Wiki”, for a brief period leading up to the Civil War – all was New Mexico Territory).

In politics in Turtledove’s USA, the two big parties are the Socialists; and the Democratic Party, which in this time-line has come to be the conservative-leaning one. (The Republican Party has all-but become extinct.) There comes about a situation in the US Congress in the late 1930s, with an angry altercation between a couple of representatives from disaffected states, belonging to parties basically hostile to the US; and a fiery young Democratic congressman from New Mexico, named Barry Goldwater. Of course, this makes perfect sense in the novel; nonetheless, for some reason the idea of that guy as a Democrat from New Mexico, absolutely cracked me up.

Not true. For a while Lousiana had plates where they emphasized the letters U-S-A like this