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It’s All in the Name

May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The names of cities are not static. Even old New York was once New Amsterdam, as the song goes. And now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. What once was known as St. Petersburg became Petrograd in 1914, and then Leningrad in 1924—only to revert to St. Petersburg after the fall of communism. (One wonders whether it will be rechristened Putingrad in the not-too-distant future.)

Spain

And at some point around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, a Castilian village known as Castrillo Motajudios (Motajudios meaning “Jews Hill”) was renamed Castrillo Matajudios (Matajudios meaning “kill Jews”). The reason for the name change is lost to the sands of time, though the AP notes that “researchers believe the town got its current name from Jewish residents who converted to Catholicism and wanted to convince Spaniards they opposed Jews.” Shrewd!

Fast-forward a few hundred years, and the town’s 56 current residents are to hold a referendum on May 25, when they’ll decide whether to revert to the older, and far less offensive moniker. The name, after all, has been the cause of some awkward moments. “There are always the stories of people from here traveling to Israel with a passport that says Matajudios and wishing they didn’t have to show it,” the town’s mayor told the media. But even “Jews Hill” sounds a little .  .  . odd to the modern ear. To really show their philosemitic tendencies and make amends, perhaps the town’s residents could adopt a new name altogether. Castrillo Matanazis has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

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