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:


Scientists in Conflict Over Spelling Porto Rico.


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?