What’s in a name? That which we call La Antigua Guatemala

La Antigua Guatemala's Emblem

What’s in a name? That which we call La Antigua Guatemala. By any other name would enchant us the same.

This is a BIG controversy. This is a petty controversy.

The English-language speaking community refuses to recognize the official name of La Antigua Guatemala because it is too long or lack of knowledge or poor Spanish-language skills; who knows really?. They just want to call it Antigua. But Antigua is a Caribbean Island. Yet, they refuse to call it La Antigua Guatemala, which, by the way, simply means The FORMER Guatemala City, or La ANTIGUA Ciudad de Guatemala.

To add to this confusion, many Guatemalans just call it Antigua too, although more often they say La Antigua. This error is even published by newspapers and magazine. Even, the road signs just say Antigua Guatemala. Even Wikipedia just have it listed as Antigua Guatemala, which by the way means Old Guatemala.

So what is the big deal? Nothing much really. Just like Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. I believe I have touched the subject a couple of times before, but I believed it needs further clarification. Below is the quoted text from April 30th, 2007.

… La Antigua Guatemala means almost the same thing; it could be translated as The Old Guatemala City. So, now that you know Antigua means old, you can understand that calling the city OLD or ANTIGUA is a misnomer since the word old is only the adjective modifying the name Guatemala. When people just use Antigua instead of La Antigua Guatemala is almost like if we only used “new” for New York or New Zealand or “San” for San Francisco. On top of it, the single word Antigua refers to a Caribbean Island.

Now for the really interesting part of the controversy we have to deconstruct Harry the FOUR pieces of the name. That is right I said four (4) pieces of the name. Let us begin:

LA: The article is very important because it is the only part of the name which really makes the location unique. La or The is what separates La Antigua Guatemala from any Old Guatemala.

ANTIGUA: The adjective modifies the noun Guatemala in many different ways. It could be translated as antique, old, former, ancient, previous, just to name a few. Antigua by itself does not mean La Antigua Guatemala or Former Guatemala City or The Old Guatemala City.

CIUDAD de/CITY of: This invisible part is my contribution to the controversy. This part is invisible because in Spanish sometimes we obviate the obvious. We say I am going to Guatemala/Mexico if we are in the rural areas and we mean to say our going to the capital city or to Guatemala City. When we say La Antigua Guatemala we really are saying The Old Guatemala City or The Former Guatemala City. So, believe when I say the word city is there, we just don’t pronounce it. Okay, let see if it flies.

GUATEMALA: The noun Guatemala has an invisible last name which is city. Guatemala City and Mexico City are only two of the capital cities that carry the name of the country and thus need the word city to differentiate it.

Would this entry change any minds? I hope so. It is okay to call La Antigua Guatemala, Antigua, La Antigua or Antigua Guatemala in informal situations. People do that all the time with LA (Los Angeles), NYC (Nueva York), Vegas, Frisco, et-cetera. But, it is unacceptable to use a short name in formal situations like maps, travel guides, travelblogs, newspaper articles, books, magazines, and so on. I think?!

© 2007 – 2015, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Coltrane_lives

    Rudy, well said. I hadn’t considered this until now. It does provide pause for thought. Personally, I like “La Antigua Guatemala.” Even with my poor command of Spanish it is NOT hard to say. Gracias for the narrative.

  • Rudy, I have only been to Antigua (or as I now know I should say ‘La Antigua Guatemala’) once (about six years ago) and I fell in love with the place. But I must admit that until now I didn’t really know anything about the place… but reading your blog every day I have learnt so much about it. So please keep up the good work!

  • I saw a a show on coffee the other day on tv and they showed scenes in La Antigua Guatemala. the streets were fimaliar to me because I had seen the same on your blog. I thought this is not complete you missed Rudy. have a good day.

  • Manolo

    Pues there is a lot in a name. I have a friend here in Canada from Antigua, the isalnd not the city, and they pronounce it “Antiga”. Moreover, whatever happened to “The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of St. James of the Knights of Guatemala”???? Which was the original name of the city. Should the name be “Santiago” (St. James) in which case it must have “de Guatemala” because there are other notables Santiago’s in Latin America.

    Ah, and if it is coffee from Antigua is not from the Caribbean.

  • Amazing. Some people actually go to war over things like this. I hope it doesn’t come to blows where you live. I like the plaque.

    Abraham Lincoln
    Trapping the Japanese Beetle
    Brookville Daily Photo
    Some published works

  • Rudy,

    I have always favored La Antigua Guatemala, but must admit that I have also been conditioned just to say “Antigua”, primarily because that is how many of the locals referred to it as.

    Too bad that your website is not called La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo. Would you consider changing the name of your website?

    All in favor?


  • Scott, now you are pushing it; just because I told you the other day that this site was as much yours as it is mine, now you want to start calling the shots. I will never, in a million years, change the name of this web site; you hear me, never! 😉

    Coltrane, you are right, it is not to hard to pronounce it in English.

    OneWay, me too. Just now I am learning all this stuff.

    Patsy, I am telling you, resistance is futile.

    Manolo, congrats on your achievement in education. Mil urrahs par vos. You know, I thought of including the Santiago de Guatemala bit, but I then realize it would be too confusing. I do agree with you, Santiago de Guatemala would be a better and more proper name.

    Abe, I promise I will not go to war over this big/petty controversy.

  • Jennifer S.

    Hola Rudy!
    Le Gusta tu fotos! Le Gusta La Antigua Mucho! Yes, I am a “Grande Gringo” from the USA, who lived in La Antigua for six months while completing the adoption of our beautiful daughter from Guatemala. She is more beautiful than any flower that has ever grown in La Antigua or sold in the Mercado.
    I write to thank you for the daily update of the city. I wish you would photograph the lengthy streets of cobblestone and flowers and the beautiful, powerful storms that can drowned you in 10 seconds without an umbrella. I wish you would photograph all the people running for cover under the alcoves and the gloomy gray the glistens the mighty “burros” or “chicken Busses” for gringos.
    I don’t know what happened to me in La Antigua during those 6 months. But, I must be honest. La Ciudad de Bonita, a La Antigua…it grew under my skin. It is a Grande Estrella en mi Vida. I have nightmares…I am walking the gorgeous, colorful, noisy mercado aisles. They are crowded with all the vendedoras y amigos and I am crying because I have to leave them forever. I will be returning shortly, or so I hope daily.
    But my daughter needs me now. She gave me more gifts than I can count, but she also gave me a new perspective on life. Or at least the people of Guatemala gave me that perspective. They helped me learn how to care for a baby. And they taught me some of the ways they do motherhood as a Guatemalateca.
    I also miss the Pan de Anise para Panaderia de San Antonio. But, I have the recipe.
    It will never taste the way it does in Guatemala. Everything is different. The Eggs, The flour, the water.
    I rambled. But, I wanted you to know, that sincerely, your sight is a little bit of love for me from La Antigua.
    Muchos Gracias!
    Adios -Jennifer S and Sophia.

  • Jennifer, I really appreciate your feedback. Come back as often as you can and in the mean time I will do my best to publish a photo per day from La Antigua Guatemala; so you can keep up with your other home.

  • Rudy,

    Perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!! (wink, wink)

    – Scott

  • Ann

    Thank you indeed for the lesson. I was wondering what “La Antigua Guatemala” meant. Interesting too is that “La Antigua” and Antigua (the island) are pronounced in a different way as well.

  • Interesting — until now I was under the impression that this was a town called Antigua in the country of Guatemala.
    I thought you included Guatemala in the name of the blog just to avoid confusion with the island of Antigua.
    I see you have now actually changed the name to La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo.
    Thank for the education and the changes will be incorporated into my links in due course.

  • Guayuo

    Hey don’t worry about the name and how you use it. Antigua, La Antigua, Antigua Guatemala or La Antigua ciudad de Guatemala they all reefer to the same place. It is just how you use the language. I was born in Guatemala, which is in America, therefore I am an American, but if I say that everybody would think that I was born in the USA. Just remember where you are, see how everybody gets around and you will not get lost.

    bye the way. Nice blog.

  • Laura

    Hi there
    I have been wondering about this for a while – is Antigua (in Guatemala) pronounced in the same way as the island (An-tee-ga) or is it pronounced An-ti-gwa? Or some other way? I would really like to know. Thanks!

  • Laura, the answer is in Manolo’s comment (#4).

  • kelley Akin

    I lived in Antigua for about 3-4 years back in the 80’s…actually wound up owning a bar “La Gallaria” on the central square..(long story only suitable for telling in person whilst drinking either Gallo or Monte Carlo)….anyway….why all the fooofarah about the name? Antigua…La Antigua……who cares?? How about talkin about how sweet the town is and all the colorful expats and citizens….Does Yuki still run that great Japenese resturant?…Is La Fonda still operating?…..How About Dona Luisa’s?…..Can you still get a great cheap Masage at the Instituto de Naturalista in Jocotenango…do they still play soccer in the mouth of Augua??….lets get some action here !!

  • Scott H.

    I just wanted to thank you very much for this indepth article. I have already bookmarked your site, when I have more free time I am going to have to do some further browsing. Well back to my dreaming of Panama or back to the books – I wonder which one is going to win out. 🙂

  • Shamira

    I still love the sound of La Antigua Guatemala.

  • Jorge Aquino

    It really means: “The Old Guatemala”. Antigua (the island) is a recent Nation in the Caribbean and consequently Antigua Guatemala precedes it by hundreds of years. I personally dislike the name “La Antigua Guatemala” because the article “la” (or The in English) is derogatory, so, Antigua Guatemala not only sounds perfect but describes the “former” Capital City of Guatemala or Guatemala City.