This is no Caribbean Island
That which we call La Antigua Guatemala by any other name would enchant us just the same
This is a BIG controversy—this is a petty controversy. For reasons unknown, many people within the English-speaking community do not use the official name La Antigua Guatemala. Maybe it’s because the formal name is too long, or the person lacks the background information or Spanish-language skills; who knows? They say “Antigua” which simply means antique. And, to further complicate matters, Antigua is also the name of a Caribbean island within the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
To add to this confusion, many Guatemalans call it “Antigua” too, although more often they say “La Antigua.” This error is often found published in newspapers and magazines. Worst yet, the road signs read “Antigua Guatemala.” Even Wikipedia lists it as “Antigua Guatemala,” which, by the way, really only means “Old Guatemala.”
So what’s the big deal? Nothing much, really. To quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”…still.
When people say ‘Antigua’ instead of ‘La Antigua Guatemala’ it’s like saying ‘new’ for New York or New Zealand or ‘San’ for San Francisco.
For the really interesting part of the controversy, we have to deconstruct the name.
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. For instance, it could be translated as antique, old, former, ancient, previous …
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” or “I am going to Mexico” if we are in the rural areas of those countries and we mean to say we’re going to Guatemala City or Mexico City. When we say “La Antigua Guatemala” we really are saying “The Old Guatemala City” or “The Former Guatemala City.” So, believe me 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.
Have I changed any minds out there to make the switch from Antigua to La Antigua Guatemala or La Antigua? I hope so. It is okay to refer to La Antigua Guatemala, as Antigua, La Antigua or Antigua Guatemala in informal settings. People do that all the time with LA (Los Angeles), NYC (New York), Vegas, Frisco, etc. But it is unacceptable to use a short name in formal communication like maps, travel guides, travelblogs, newspaper articles, books, magazines, and so on. At least that’s what I think!