Figure 3. Distribution of current Mayan languages by name within Guatemala and neighboring regions in Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
of the origin of the language's name
Figure 1. Nance or nanche fruit named in Spanish. Chi (chi') in K'eqchi language.
The author's inference is that the word K'eqchi' was originally used to describe a small black fruit (k'eq chi') that grows from a tall tree (15 m high, 50 cm in diameter) and which in Spanish is called "aguacatillo". These trees [Persea caerulea (Ruiz & Pav.) Mez] were known by the ancient Mayas who may have grown them and consumed their fruits. Thus, an inference can be made of the origin of the term K'eqchi' and its subsequent use by the Mayan descendant inhabitants who lived and still live in that region and acquired that name at their location.
Figure 2. Persea borbonia foliage and fruit (source Wikipedia)
The above theory is only a supposition and inference of the origin of the word K'eqchi' without much scientific, geographic or archeological support other than the author�s knowledge as a native K'eqchi' speaker, translator and linguist.
The same inference can be applied to the word Ki'che' - another major Mayan language spoken by the Ki'che' indigenous people towards the southwest of Alta Verapaz. In K'eqchi' language, Ki'che' (c'iche') means a mountain, jungle, forest, or any large area covered by trees and vegetation. However, the term Ki'che' is composed of two words as well, ki' - sweet and che' - tree. Thus, the word describes a tree which is sweet in nature. It is worth to note that in K'ekchi' language the word che' (noun) refers to all kinds of wood, from small sticks to trees. The author is not certain of what specific tree the ancient Maya Ki'che' inhabitants may have referred to but it may have been relevant to their every day life. Today, for example, a tree called "Palo Dulce" in Spanish is described as having healing properties.
In conclusion, at least to what concerns these two languages, K'eqchi and Kiche', their names were acquIred from elements related to nature at their locations. I suspect that other Mayan languages, Kaqchikel for example, have also acquired their names to the surroundings and environment; in this case to volcanoes, eruptions, lava, etc.
Written and researched by George Max, Middle September, 2009. Last date modified: June 19, 2011.
© K'EQCHI' LANGUAGE, 2009, 2013. All rights reserved. Guatemala, Middle America.