Date: Sun, 15 Sep 1996 10:56:26 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: Puerto ("Poo-air-to") Rico or Porto Rico?
Sadly, Puerto Rico has been devasted by Hurrican Hortense. About 100
years ago, after the Spanish-American War of 1898, there was a dispute over
the spelling and pronunciation of the island's name.
This large, wonderful article in my files comes from the Washington
Post, 28 July 1899, pg. 7, col. 3. I'll quote it only in part:
DISPUTING OVER NAME
Scientists in Conflict Over Spelling Porto Rico.
OLD MAPS HAVE BEEN CONSULTED
Board of Geographic Names Continues to Adhere ot Its Former Decision
that the Recently Acquired Island is Puerto Rico--Their Opponents Claim
to Have President McKinley on Their Side, Besides Numerous Other
....The Puerto Ricans were the first in the field and they nearly had the
fight won, when the others contested their right to name the new baby. The
former, as has been stated above, consisted mainly of the United States Board
on Geographic Names. The body is composed of men eminent in the arts of
military and naval warfare, and has representatives from the different
scientific bureaus. They are gentlemen of culture and refinement, and they
are versed in all that would go to render them competent to name a continent,
a hemisphere, not to mention a little island hardly as large as an ordinary
ink blot on the globe. They based their position on the fact that the
aforementioned insular nonentity had been called Puerto Rico by the
Spaniards, when they had finally settled down to business and quit fooling
with the other barbarous epithets applied to it.
They further insist that Porto Rico had a sound suspiciously Portuguese,
and that the true Castillian is the proper thing. Properly translated, they
argued, Puerto Rico meant "rich port," although they forget to specify
whether they meant the wine of that name or the destination of storm-driven
barks. Furthermore they issued the edict that the English usage for foreign
names was in exceedingly bad taste. Furthermore they insisted that the
natives of the island should be consulted. They averred that these people
were quite fond of calling themselves "Poo-air-to" Ricans.
...The Porto Ricans...asked them why they did not call Japan Niphon, as
the Japs style their country, or Austria Oesterreich-Unga, or Belgium
Belgique, or Sweden Sverig, or Morocco Magribel Aksa. In addition to these
things the Porto Ricans assert that the natives themselves find that their
brand of nomenclature rolls more trippingly off the tongue. They further
state that since the American occupation of the island the people there are
using the name Porto Rico on stationery and bill heads. They advance the
argument that usage is what makes names, and no decree of potentates can
change the vernacular of the common people.
...The name Puerto Rico is practically impossible to the English tongue
and therefore we should employ some name that is phonetically more congenial
to our linguistic capabilities. Reference is made to the pronunciation
employed some years ago by such bold buccaneers as Drake and Hawkins, who,
though they could destroy a Spanish armanda (sic), could not pronounce Puerto
...A resume of the Porto Rican side of the question is as follows:
First, The President has spelled it that way, ergo it is right.
Second, The official designation since the American occupation has been
the "Military Department of Porto Rico," whatever it may have been under
Spanish domination, ergo it is right.
Third, The treaty of peace last year explicitely (sic) spells the name
Porto Rico, ergo it is right.
Fourth, The post-offices are officially in the island of Porto Rico,
ergo it is right.
Fifth, For three hundred years English, German, French, and Dutch
cartographers have spelled it that way, ergo it is right.
Sixth, Government departments have used the word Porto Rico in their
government publications, ergo it is right.
Seventh, Inasmuch as the word Puerto, being practically unpronouncable
(sic) in English, and the form Porto being thoroughly established through
centuries of usage, in accordance with certain well-known laws of linguistic
evolution, which cannot be herein fully set forth, it will be impossible to
supplant the latter by the former, ergo it is right.
Meanwhile, what are the poor islanders going to do?