New Spain's independence struggle led to adopting the national identity of "México", the name of its major city and the Mexica society there. In referring to a specific indigenous group, Mexico seems to be unique among the independence names of former Spanish viceroyalties. I got interested in what this meant for centralism and exclusion; here's what I've learned about the adoption of the name:

  • In 1730 the principal newspaper Gaceta de México used the phrase "Imperio Mexicano" to refer to the Aztec Empire, but in 1785 and afterwards it innocently used the same name for the viceroyalty ("... algunas provincias del Imperio Mexicano con motivo del extrañamiento de los Jesuitas ...").

  • In 1810-1811, the father of Mexican independence Miguel Hidalgo consistently called his country "América", not using the term "México", at least in the documents available on WikiSource. Similarly, the Lista del juramento de los habitantes de San Blas al cura Mercado contains the demonym "americano" but not "mexicano".

  • From 1810 to 1821 there was an official newspaper called Gaceta del Gobierno de México, referring to the seat of power, if not the territory it governed. This transitioned after independence into the Gaceta del Gobierno del Imperio de México.

  • In 1821, the Plan de Iguala and the Declaration of Independence both called the new state the "Imperio Mexicano".

None of the principal revolutionaries were Mexica, but at some point they apparently reached a consensus to use the meronym "México" for their new country. It would have begun to describe areas never subjugated by the Mexica, like Sinaloa, Guatemala, and New Mexico. Understandably, some Apaches and Mayans proceeded to resist the authority of a country whose name excluded them.

Prior to 1821, who supported or opposed the adoption of the name "Mexico"? How seriously were alternatives like "America" considered?

  • 1
    Mexican independence was just a few decades before the USA annexed New Mexico in 1846-48. Was New Mexico a new name then? No, that is a dead end - apparently Spanish explorers called the region Neuvo Mexico in 1563, hoping it would have as many rich cultures to loot as the Valley of Mexico did. I wonder if anyone proposed "India" or "West India" as the name, since it was part of the Kingdom of the East and the West Indias.
    – MAGolding
    May 1, 2018 at 22:42
  • 2
    Tough - but good - question. I did quite a lot of googling a few days ago and didn't come up with much. May 3, 2018 at 23:02
  • 1
    Historia de las cosas mas notables, rites y costumbres, del gran Reyno de la ... (1585) Makes multiple references to Mexico (Mirror).
    – iacob
    May 3, 2018 at 23:44

3 Answers 3


Your question appears to be based upon a false assumption:

As far back as 1590, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum showed that the northern part of the New World was known as "America Mexicana" (Mexican America), as México City was the seat for the New Spain viceroyalty. New Spain is mistaken as the old name for México, rather than the name of a large of expanse of land which covered much of North America and included the Caribbean and the Philippines. Since New Spain wasn't actually a state or a contiguous part of land, in modern times we would thought of it as a Jurisdiction under the command of the authorities in modern Mexico City. Under the Spaniards, Mexico was both the name of the capital and its sphere of influence, most of which exists as Greater Mexico City and the State of Mexico. Some parts of Puebla, Morelos and Hidalgo were also part of Spanish-era Mexico.

A bit of research shows even earlier references to Mexico, as in Historia de las cosas mas notables, rites y costumbres, del gran Reyno de la ... (1585) (Mirror).

  • 2
    Good find. It does seem clear that the name was used as a meronym long before independence, and even that it was an obvious choice. I want to know how the naming decision was taken within the independence movement. May 4, 2018 at 3:40

Mexica is the Nahuatl or "Aztec" name for the original group of "Aztecs." Over the course of several centuries, these "Mexicans" conquered the whole Central Valley of what we now call "Mexico," thereby creating the "Aztec" empire. "Mexica" is the core of this empire.

The Spanish added chunks of modern Mexico (and central America) to the Aztec empire, which is why today's "Mexico" is larger than the original Mexica. Other names for the country like "America" were considered, but the "USA" had beaten "Mexico" to the punch. Even Spanish-speaking "South" American nations might have disputed that name.

  • 2
    Good observation that choosing "America" would have been complicated by the previous existence of the USA. May 1, 2018 at 5:45

I finally found this question addressed in Timothy Anna's Forging Mexico (Nebraska, 1998), pp. 36-40.

Tenochtitlán dominated the center of Mesoamerica for a century before the arrival of Spaniards, who chose the same location for their own capital. In Mexico "the hegemony of the metropolitan, urban center existed all through the colonial period."

Over time creoles developed a national identity based on the fusion of European and indigenous elements. These elites still preferred wheat to corn, but appropriated and paid lip service to native culture by revering the Virgen de Guadalupe and the eagle on a cactus devouring a snake.

David Brading named this constructed origin myth Neo-Aztecism. In it, "the identity of the nation came to be vested in the Valley of Mexico, the capital city, the political center". To this end "nationalist mythologizers" represented the whole body politic as "subsumed under the single identity of the center". That the nation then acquired a synecdochal name referring to its capital is unsurprising.

While "América" on its own was too broad, the 1814 Constitution of Apatzingán referred to "Mexican America". Both the declaration of the Congreso de Anáhuac and the 1821 Plan de Iguala called the place "Northern America". This name was accurate but failed to serve the Neo-Aztec project.

Another name at least considered was "Anáhuac", referred to in the name of the 1813 Congreso de Anáhuac. This was another Aztec term, a broader name for the known world, thematically related but not as suited to romantic mythmaking as demonyms like "Mexico".

The Plan de Iguala also called for a "new empire" (I think the question is inaccurate on this point). This was the one soon called "the Mexican Empire" that enthroned and deposed Iturbide. The eventual republic was created with the name "United Mexican States". The short-form national name "Mexico" took longer to gain currency.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.