What does Chile mean?

La flor y nata de la tierra (the flower and cream of the earth), for example, or país del frío (the cold country); also donde termina la tierra (the end of the earth) y gaviota (seagull), are all meanings of the word Chile according to the different indigenous dialects.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009  

This is a very common question from the country's visitors. The Mexicans use the expression Chile to refer to chili peppers, the spicy fruit used in a variety of their dishes.  It is not strange, then, that many relate the expression to the Mexicans. However, the fact is that the word Chile, like many other words used to name places within the country, has its origin in the dialect of the first indigenous people to inhabit the territory.

"La flor y nata de la tierra" (the flower and cream of the earth), for example, or "país del frío" (the cold country); also "donde termina la tierra" (the end of the earth) y "gaviota" (seagull), are all meanings of the word Chile according to the different indigenous dialects.

In the northern language quechua, Chili-Chilli means "la flor y nata de la tierra" and alludes to an unknown territory that reaches the end of the world. In the aymara language, also from the north of the country, Chile would be a derivative of the word "ch’iwi", that means where the earth ends. In mapudungún, the language of the indigenous mapuche from the south of the country, Chile would have its phonetic roots in the expression "chëlle", which is the name for seagull.

The different answers continue with the opinion of some historians who are certain that the name of the country has its origin in tili, the singing of a bird that is known as the trile and inhabits and extensive part of the country, from Atacama to Llanquihue.

The origin of the name of the country is an interesting subject for study and debate, but it prevailed only after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Its own conqueror, Pedro de Valdivia, wanted to change the name of the country and baptize it as Nueva Extremadura.

Indigenous language in Chile and toponymy

The influence of the pre-Columbian cultures and their languages is evident, particularly in the name of the principal cities of Chile.  For example, Antofagasta means hidden place of copper, in the quechua language, and Apumanque, a shopping mall in Santiago means chief condor, in mapudungún.

Mapuche origin and the mapudungún language

Chiloé: chëlle-we, island of the little seagulls.
Colchagua: colthahue, puddles infested with tadpoles.
Chacabuco: chicha de chacay, name of a shrub and its fruit.
Chillán: Contraction of  chilla-ñamku, fox-eaglet; also chilla-antü, fox or sun vixen.    Loncoche: from lonco, head, and che, man; head of the people.
Mapocho: mapuche; people of the earth.
Reloncaví: rëlon-kawin, The hub of many valleys.
Temuco: temu, a very common tree from the Cautín river towards the south, that grows along the river and ko, which means water; temu-ko, water or sap of a temu tree.  The indigenous used the sap of the temu tree as an ointment to cure blindness.  
Tiltil: tril-tril, sleepwalker making noise as he walks, sleepwalker.
Talca: tralca, thunder.
Vitacura: füta-kura, big magical rock. It is also the name of a legendary chief of the Mopocho river valley.

Quechua origin and their language

Apoquindo: apu-kintu, of apu, governor, and kintu, bouquet; bouquet for the governor.

Aymara origin and their language

Copiapó: copa-yapu, cultivated ground. 
Quillota: Qîllu-uta, yellow house.

Tehuelche origen and their language

Coyhaique: koi, lagoon, y áiken, camp.