There is a (probably) apocryphal story about the origins of the location name Yucatan, but it's worth telling anyway: when the Spanish conquistadors landed, they asked the natives "where are we?" but the natives, of course did not understand, so they said "yuca-hatlanas?" in reply, which really meant "what did you say?". The name then stuck. However, this account, first documented by Hernan Cortes, is probably wrong. If that is the case, we still have little clue what's going on: the word could be from the Mayan word yocatlan, which meant "place of richness", from the sentence u yu catan, "the necklaces of our wives", from the possible self-appellation of the Yokotan people, or even from a Mayan word meaning "massacre". In short, etymologists are befuddled. The only thing we know for sure is that it has Proto-Mayan origins (yes, that's its own language family. Oooh...). Oh well.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.