Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Massacres, Toponymy, Inertia, Easter
April 12, 2014 9:46 AM   Subscribe

In the Spanish province of Burgos, Castile y León, about 200 kilometers north of Madrid, is a tiny little village named Castrillo Matajudíos (pop. 60). The village is considering changing its name.

According to its official website, the town's name is derived from the Spanish words meta or mota, meaning "hill", and "judíos", meaning "Jews." Castrillo, of course, means "little fort", and the village's coat of arms features a little fort and a Star of David.

Unfortunately, the most straightforward reading of the word "Matajudíos" in Spanish is "kills Jews", or "Jew-killer". A massacre of 60 Jews and four royal officials in nearby Castrojeriz during a revolt following the death of Sancho III el Mayor in 1035, the resulting forced resettlement of the survivors to Castrillo, and another mob attack against the Jews in Castrillo in 1109 has been proposed as an alternate explanation of the origin of the town's name.

Another fun fact: in the Spanish province of León, "Matar judíos" refers to the tradition of going out to bars and drinking alcohol-spiked lemonade on Good Friday, which falls on April 18 this year. It is said that this name comes from the (no longer followed) medieval tradition of mobs attacking and publicly executing Jews as supposed "Christ-killers" during Easter. Another possible origin for the term stems from Philip IV's decree of 1306 expelling the Jews from France, upon which occasion the king allegedly declared, "Limonada que trasiego, judío que pulverizo."

There may be a pattern here.
posted by skoosh (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
People have this as a lastname too, likely as their forebears came from the village (or somewhere else with an alike name). Indeed, I think that this issue lately popped up when somebody got a receipt with the cashier's name printed on it, "John Jewkiller" or such, and wondered how the name came to be. They were relieved to find that the shopworker wasn't a raging antisemite but rather somewhat unlucky in the name stakes.
posted by Thing at 10:03 AM on April 12


By all means, get that name change, but first they should be encouraged to honestly confront their history as part of the gradual deanti-Semitization of Iberia instead of whitewashing it away.
posted by Renoroc at 10:39 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


It's kind of amazing that the name has lasted so long without any more to change it. Changing it to something less offensive whilst commemorating history would be good. I guess we're lucky they don't have a baseball team.
posted by arcticseal at 10:39 AM on April 12 [6 favorites]


Family tradition or not, if my surname were "Nun-raper" or "Mosque-defiler" I'd change it, too. But an even better step would be a museum or monument of some kind to commemorate the rank ignorance and thousand years of church-sanctioned violence that inspired the name to begin with.

What Renoroc said.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:40 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


It's kind of amazing that the name has lasted so long without any more to change it.

Sadly, I think it's easy to underestimate the causal tolerance of antisemitism in southern and Eastern Europe.
posted by howfar at 10:42 AM on April 12 [5 favorites]


I think perhaps its unfair to compare this to Eastern Europe where large Jewish Populations existed within living memory.

Its more a certain obliviousness to it than it is so much active anti-semitism.

"Encouraging them to honestly confront their history" when the events were 1000-900 years ago is maybe not so useful.
posted by JPD at 10:53 AM on April 12 [4 favorites]


South Dakota tries to change "Negro" and "squaw" place-names (and to their credit, it sounds like they actually did change some).
posted by gimonca at 10:54 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


The relationship between Spain and Jews took a positive turn only a little while ago with a new law which gives a right of return for those forced to flee after 1492. It's not perfect but it is a good step forward.
posted by Thing at 11:00 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


That name is up there with this.
posted by hexatron at 11:04 AM on April 12


The relationship between Spain and Jews took a positive turn only a little while ago with a new law which gives a right of return for those forced to flee after 1492.
I actually thought that was a little bizarre. 1492 is a long time ago. I assume they're going to take being Sephardic as good enough evidence that your ancestors were exiled in 1492, but otherwise, how many people can trace their lineage back to the 15th century anyway? I'm also a little suspicious of Spain's motivations, especially since they didn't extend a similar invitation to the descendents of Muslims who were kicked out of Spain at the same time.

Having said that, if my town's name was a reference to killing people, I would probably vote to change the name. And it's certainly true that anti-semitism has survived in many places long after all the Jews were gone.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:16 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Ivan Matajudíos! Yeah, it happened in Argentina just last month. Something tells me that the fact that that story broke led to the discovery by the English-speaking world (and probably most of the Spanish-speaking world) of this tiny little village, and the pointed questions asked of the mayor by a bunch of media outlets might even have led to putting a municipal name change on the agenda. No better time for it than Holy Week, I'd say.

Some place-names in America were a lot more offensive than "Negro". I'm pretty sure almost all of those have since been changed or softened in our somewhat more polite and inclusive times.

I think that the history of the conversos in Iberia (previously), and of the Crypto-Jews who stayed underground in Iberia and elsewhere, despite the risks, for hundreds of years, also should be kept in mind.
posted by skoosh at 11:50 AM on April 12


if my town's name was a reference to killing people, I would probably vote to change the name.

Take your pick.
posted by psoas at 12:10 PM on April 12


(Pedantry: Lynchburg VA was named for a Mr Lynch, not for lynchings.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:20 PM on April 12 [12 favorites]


Spain disappointed me in a few ways, but its level of xenophobia was definitely tops on the list. It's a country which is very visibly proud of its time as world leader (though not as proud as Portugal) and that was super awkward for me as someone who hails from an area of the world conquered by Spain and whose roommate during my time in Spain was a Jew of color. It was an excellent way to see current issues in Spanish anti-Semitism, whoa boy.

Matamoros is also a toponym/current day celebration problem in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella's plan was to take Spain back for the Christians and that meant throwing out both of the other two religions (if you think 1492 was a long time ago...the answer is somewhere between cryptoconversos and Spanish pride). There's still Valle de Matamoros (in Extremadura, which is birthplace for many of the Conquistadores; they who changed that rallying cry from 'Matamoros' to 'Mataindios').

Yes, Santiago Matamoros is a saint and his name is present in many places across Mexico and the rest of the Americas--but for a country which has Europe's largest mosque, it's a bit tone-deaf.
posted by librarylis at 12:41 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


This makes the "Matamoros" entree at my favorite Latin restaurant problematic. (Filet mignon, onion rings, served with sautéed onion, mushroom & tequila sauce. It's delicious.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:46 PM on April 12


(Pedantry: Lynchburg VA was named for a Mr Lynch, not for lynchings.)

True that is, but most of them are in the South and the association is awkward at best.
posted by psoas at 12:53 PM on April 12


Do you know why the Spanish conquistadors so decimated the indigenous populations that they encountered in the New World? It's because only ignorant, mostly uneducated, barbaric Christians were left after the Spanish Catholics expelled most of Spain's middle-class intelligentsia - i.e. the Jews and Arabs.

. It's complicated. There has been more than enough Jew-hating to go around in Spain, yet somehow Spain one of those countries that has been able to let its culpability slide into history's dustbin.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:02 PM on April 12


True that is, but most of them are in the South and the association is awkward at best.

Or, conversely, this sort of word-association makes the efforts to change terms that are actually rooted in oppression in hatred that much harder to address. Rhode Island periodically has a movement to change the name from "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to remove the "plantations" part, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the Southern plantation system. So people go back and forth, and very little light is shed on Rhode Island's shameful involvement in the slave trade in the process.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:25 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


It's because

If it were only that simple.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:16 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


True that is, but most of them are in the South and the association is awkward at best.

To make the waters even murkier, while nobody knows for certain how the term lynching came to be used to describe those types of race murders, one of the more common etymologies is from Charles Lynch, who turns out to be the brother of the John Lynch who is the founder and namesake of Lynchburg, VA. Charles Lynch was famous for handing down extrajudicial imprisonment and property confiscation on Tories during the Revolution, although he never actually had anybody extrajudically executed.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:19 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why it continues to amaze me that Christians cannot understand one of the principal events in their own myth, century after century, but it still does. CHRIST WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE. He couldn't do his magic if he didn't. I guess perhaps it could be used as an excuse to justify the massacre of Jews. Church leaders wouldn't go that far, would they?! Psh.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:48 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


My Spanish isn't good enough to have made the connection between the name Matamoros and what the words it's derived from mean. But yeah, looking it up, the town across the river from Brownsville is named after a saint whose epithet is Moor-Slayer. Untangling the knot of issues around that name in that place is way beyond my ken, even if I were in any position to have an opinion about the right thing to do.
posted by immlass at 5:51 PM on April 12


I actually thought that was a little bizarre. 1492 is a long time ago. I assume they're going to take being Sephardic as good enough evidence that your ancestors were exiled in 1492, but otherwise, how many people can trace their lineage back to the 15th century anyway? I'm also a little suspicious of Spain's motivations, especially since they didn't extend a similar invitation to the descendents of Muslims who were kicked out of Spain at the same time.

I think you have your own answer. Jews can show their descent from Spain far more easily than Muslims. The law should thus not be taken as the last statement on the matter of return but rather an expression of what is practical.
posted by Thing at 7:39 PM on April 12


This reminds me of another place name change, the currently called Mimizuka, Ear Mound, in Japan. It's a monument of noses chopped off Korean's during a Japanese invasion in the 1500s. It was originally more corrected called Mound of Noses but changed to Ears because that sounded less cruel. Which seems to be slightly missing the point.
posted by lepus at 7:51 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Jews can show their descent from Spain far more easily than Muslims.

Apart from that there probably aren't many Jews who would be interested in taking up the invitation, and a high proportion would be EU citizens who already have a right to live in Spain.

The expelled Muslims probably have thousands of descendants in Morocco who would be in Spain within days, possibly hours, given a chance.
posted by Segundus at 8:13 PM on April 12


As I recall, Spain's criteria for citizenship under this offer are 1) a Spanish surname; and 2) the ability to speak Spanish. The bar isn't particularly high, and I suspect that it's actually a thinly-disguised attempt to attract wealthy Jews to a country suffering economic woes. In other words, it isn't an apology so much as a reflection of the Spanish attitude towards Jews.

Incidentally, I understand that there are annual symbolic Jew hunts in Mexico to this day. In some places they'll tell you that the leering, hook-nosed figures are devils; in others they'll say that they are "Judases" (the name "Judas" is the source of the word "Jew"); in others they'll frankly say that the figures represent Jews. Mexico has too many problems for me to feel outraged about this one in particular, but I wish they'd do something about it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:03 PM on April 12


Some place-names in America were a lot more offensive than "Negro". I'm pretty sure almost all of those have since been changed or softened in our somewhat more polite and inclusive times.

The Daily Show: The Amazing Racism - Geographical Bigotry
posted by homunculus at 11:18 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


(the name "Judas" is the source of the word "Jew")

Uh, no. That'd be Judah.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 PM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Judas is a Latin spelling of Judah. The Hebrew word is יְהוּדָ֛ה, "Yehudah". The Vulgate transliterates it as "Iudas", based on the Greek transliteration "Ἰούδας". But you don't even need to go that far: if you have a King James' version you can find "Judas" given as the name of Jacob's eldest son in Matthew 1:2. We know him as Judah.

So a more long-winded explanation is: the tribal ancestor Yehudah gave his name to the tribe of Yehudah which gave its name to the Kingdom of Yehudah which gave its name to the region of Yehudah which gave its name to the people following the religion associated with the region; and the Romans called those people Iudei, and the Middle English pronunciation of Iudei became "Jew". But the connection between "Judas" and "Jew" is absolutely fundamental and, in my opinion, not coincidental, and that's why people celebrating Easter with a symbolic Jew-burning transition between "Jew" and "Judas".
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:22 AM on April 13


To be honest, this is the first time I hear of this subject. I don't read all the Spanish press too closely, but it hasn't made a splash here. Yesterday morning I was listening to the radio and a British guest was talking about how strange was to see placenames like Llanos del Caudillo, so eh. There's unfortunate toponyms all over the map, Despeñaperros (lit. "it throws the dogs down the cliff") might be the biggest name.
I think that the history of the conversos in Iberia (previously), and of the Crypto-Jews who stayed underground in Iberia and elsewhere, despite the risks, for hundreds of years, also should be kept in mind.
I actually thought of making an aside on the jamón ibérico thread about how everyone would throw some cured pork or lard to their stew both because cured meat was all the meat there was to eat in winter and to show that they weren't Jews, but it wasn't ontopic.

But yeah, one of the "signs" of being judaizante that the Inquisition took seriously was a suspicious lack of pork in your food, along with not being seen on Saturdays.
The expelled Muslims probably have thousands of descendants in Morocco who would be in Spain within days, possibly hours, given a chance.
FWIW, IMO, first in line should be the saharauis who where made refugees after Morocco took the former colony of Western Sahara in 1975 (since the people on top were focused on a certain dictator that was dying slowly). There are live people with old Spanish documentos nacionales de identidad living in tents in exile.
Incidentally, I understand that there are annual symbolic Jew hunts in Mexico to this day. In some places they'll tell you that the leering, hook-nosed figures are devils; in others they'll say that they are "Judases" (the name "Judas" is the source of the word "Jew"); in others they'll frankly say that the figures represent Jews. Mexico has too many problems for me to feel outraged about this one in particular, but I wish they'd do something about it.
Judas is the Hellenized form of Judah/ Yehudah, as in Judah Ben-Hur, the Tribe of Judah, and the Kingdom of Judah, which after a couple of invasions by the Greeks and the Romans had given its name to the province of Judaea. Romance languages mean that there isn't much change between "Judaeus" and "Judío".

("Jesus" is also the Hellenized form of "Yeshua", as in "Joshua". Both Yeshua and Judah were super-common names in the times of Jesus, and there is another apostle with the name of Judas)
posted by sukeban at 1:01 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


That name is up there with this .

That name in turn is up there with Семижоп (10.25 here).
posted by finka at 3:51 AM on April 13


South Dakota tries to change "Negro" and "squaw" place-names

It happens with animals as well -- the squawfish was renamed the northern pikeminnow some years back, for example.

In addition to the super overtly problematic place names, there are a lot of places in the west commemorated as the "Battle of XYZ" that were in fact simple massacres, often of unarmed Indian villagers.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:01 AM on April 13


As I recall, Spain's criteria for citizenship under this offer are 1) a Spanish surname; and 2) the ability to speak Spanish. The bar isn't particularly high, and I suspect that it's actually a thinly-disguised attempt to attract wealthy Jews to a country suffering economic woes. In other words, it isn't an apology so much as a reflection of the Spanish attitude towards Jews.

I have to doubt this, for anybody who took up Spanish citizenship under this route could just as easily live anywhere in the EU. There would be no way of getting these "wealthy Jews" to actually spend their money in Spain. Given that Malta is openly giving citizenship to rich people who pay fees and "invest" money, Spain could surely come up with something a little less cack-handed and useless. I mean, Spain even abolished the need for any residency period whatsoever!
posted by Thing at 8:15 AM on April 13


Judas is a Latin spelling of Judah.

Greek, actually. In Hebrew, yes, they're all Yehudi. But in both English and Spanish, Judah (Sp. Judá) and Judas have distinct spellings. Judah is not, to my knowledge, spelled Judas in any language but Greek (Ιούδας). (They're even spelled differently in Latin, the distinction being rather important to liturgy.) To say that Judas, rather than Judah, is the source of Jew is kinda super ridiculous. It's completely backwards.

But the connection between "Judas" and "Jew" is absolutely fundamental

I understand how it can really strongly seem like that's the case, but it's really not. In many languages including Spanish, two of the Twelve Apostles are named Judas, only one of whom is a villain. (In English we usually call the good one Jude.) For some reason lost to time, Judas was just a really common name for Jewish boys born in Judea.

There's obviously no denying that the story of Judas Iscariot has fuelled a lot of antisemitism among Christians--most of it, even. But it still would be if his name were Steve.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:27 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Apart from that there probably aren't many Jews who would be interested in taking up the invitation, and a high proportion would be EU citizens who already have a right to live in Spain.
I don't think that's right. I think the biggest concentration of Sephardic Jews would be in Israel, in part because a lot of Jews from places like Morocco moved to Israel in the second half of the twentieth century. There are a lot of Sephardic folks in France, but otherwise I think the big communities are mostly outside of the EU. This New York Times article suggests that the most interest in Spanish citizenship has come from Turkey and Venezuela, followed by Israel.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:29 AM on April 13


In many languages including Spanish, two of the Twelve Apostles are named Judas, only one of whom is a villain. (In English we usually call the good one Jude.) For some reason lost to time, Judas was just a really common name for Jewish boys born in Judea.
There was also Judas Maccabeus, who turned an already patriotic name into even more badass and patriotic.
posted by sukeban at 10:02 AM on April 13


Interestingly, there's also a hamlet in France called La Mort aux Juifs (death to the Jews; or perhaps The Jews' Death).

I asked a question about it back in 2005, the whole thread is interesting.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:05 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


« Older Ask Polly: Will Our Class Differences Tear Us Apar...  |  The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments