This is no Caribbean Island

La Antigua Guatemala's Official Emblem (photo: Rudy Girón)

La Antigua Guatemala's Official Emblem (photo: Rudy Girón)

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!


  • ashamed guatemalan

    Pleeeaze, keep your political correctness, pettiness, xenofobia and easily offended sense of the whatever out of my sight. Grow up. EVERYONE has a pet name, shorthand, etc., for EVERYTHING. For example are you gonna crucify foreigners because they call the quetzal (currency)a Q instead of the full legal name? Yeah, you sound like the type that would. Are you going to vilify Guatemala City residents that call Lake Atitlan “Ati”, Lake Amatitlan “Amati” or La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala “Antigua” because it is easier than the full legal name? Not likely because as a chapin you KNOW what we would call you, a cangrejo, at least. Stop being so self-righteous and full of yourself.

  • Ernesto Sandino

    My friend, if you have learned something in your life, you should be aware that good and bad apples are everywhere. Please do not generalize is not very nice.

  • Chapin in the U.S.

    Ashamed Guatemalan, did you read the last paragraph? Because it appears you did not read the whole article.

  • I am amazed and rather shocked at the anger generated by “an ashamed Guatemalan” over the issue of calling Antigua La Antigua Guatemala … for goodness sakes where ever you are, lighten up … whether you like RG’s style, Google Antigua … you’ll get the island … La Antigua Guatemala should be the official name then call it whatever you like!

  • Frances

    I agree with Mr.Sandino, do not generalize, Terry Kovick what are you talking about?

  • Catherine Todd

    I think this is an excellent article, as I myself have been confused at times when people leave off parts of the names of Guatemala City or La Antigua Guatemala. I have had to explain this over and over to foreign friends visiting Guatemala. What is the problem in calling things by their proper name, especially in a historical, journalistic or formal setting? Kudos to the writer; thumbs up from me.

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  • ruby

    i think this was a boring article because i dident really get it

  • Catherine Todd

    This is a very important article, since many people are confused between “La Antigua” the city in Guatemala, and “Antigua,” the island in the Caribbean. I am very glad someone has put this issue in perspective and pointed out the importance of proper diction, spelling and nomenclature.

    In other words: Call it by it’s right name. La Antigua.

    Simple enough & Gracias!

  • Catherine Todd

    Did people miss the last paragraph of this article, which included:

    “… it is unacceptable to use a short name in formal communication like maps, travel guides, travelblogs, newspaper articles, books, magazines, and so on.”

    Anyone who is an experienced writer for publications or works in a library or is an educator understands this. That there could be “controversy” over this issue is ridiculous. Just use the correct name journalistically.

    Thank you for the article. Looking forward to more.

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  • Santiago

    Why don’t we just call it Santiago de Guatemala be done with it. After all, that’s the original name, right?

  • Catherine Todd

    I have switched to “La Antigua Guatemala or La Antigua” as you suggest. Using “Antigua” has caused untold confusion for people who are not familiar or live in Guatemala. Thanks for promoting proper naming of cities and towns. It is important, and I will use La Antigua in the LakeAtitlanDirectory dot com. CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com.

  • Stop trying to render my web site obsolete LOL. Of course I am joking. My web site’s name does not have “La” or any other part of the formal city name in it. I don’t mind.

    I only partially agree with the article. I do not think it is rude by any means. I am not sure why people seem to be so sensitive on this subject.

    Yes, in FORMAL communication, you should use FORMAL nomenclature. However, most times we are referring to L’Antigua (Yes, I did. That’s how we Chapines pronounce it so I am trying to make it stick.), we are talking about an “old friend”. One who deserves our respect, but also our love. If L’Antigua was a person, we would call it, “Antigüita”. In fact I have heard people call it “Mi Antigüita”, usually when you are not there and miss it/her so much. That’s who we are, romantic people. We Guatemalans can romanticize an old shoe!

    Like I said, I don’t mind the name. Think about Antigua, La Antigua, or whatever, as long as you think about it with love. If geography is not your strong suit, it is no one’s fault. We didn’t start the confusion but it’s an opportunity to educate others. No big deal.

    From beautiful San Francisco (oh yes, there are several thousand places with that name, no one’s fault either… just don’t call it Frisco!:)), I wish you peace and love, and the time, energy and openness to enjoy your travels, wherever they may take you!

    Casa Ocho
    Te quiero mi Antigüita querida!

  • Thіs is a tοpic that’s near to my heart… Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?

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