What Is The Meaning Of Tabasco?

The meaning of the word “Tabasco”  dates back to the time of colonization. There are several versions and each of these gives a different origin to this word.

As a general rule, names are a result of nomenclatures of terms that define in some way the place and the idiosyncrasy of its original inhabitants. This is why with this knowledge also comes a deeper understanding of the place itself.

In America the origin of the names of towns or regions respond to the aboriginal tradition prior to colonization.

The Indians were the first to occupy the territory; therefore, the later inhabitants adopted many names to make them their own. However, its roots run deeper.

Mexico in particular is a territory whose names are largely due to its aboriginal ancestors; Chiapas, Colima, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Sinaloa are names of pre-Columbian origin.

Some have an easily interpreted origin, while others have generated controversy due to their uncertain origins. The district of Tabasco, a region in the southwest of the country, belongs to this second group.

Sources of the original name

References for the name “Tabasco” date back to the time of colonization. The sources are the texts written by historians, chroniclers and members of the exploration crews.

From these texts many scholars have established their own theories and interpretations.

However, the primary texts are not always completely faithful. In some cases the chroniclers were complacent, others wrote through the stories they heard, and others were affected by their ignorance of aboriginal languages.

1- Reference of Bernal Díaz del Castillo

The main reference for the exploration of this territory is in the book  True History of the Conquest of New Spain , by Bernal Díaz del Castillo.

He visited Tabasco on an exploration under the command of Captain Juan de Grijalva, and claims that Tabasco was the name of the chief who ruled the region.

This is the only first-hand reference available, but later other scholars on the subject have exposed their theories.

Bernal tells that at the time of his arrival, in 1518, the territory was directed by the chief Tasbcoob. Derivations of the pronunciation of this name become the word Tabasco.

It was also how the Indians referred to the current Grijalva River, as a tribute to the governor of the region.

2- Mayan origin

Dr. Berend, author of the text Maya Geographic Names , advocates the Mayan origin of the word.

He explains that the word is a corruption of the word “Tab-uaxac-coh”, which means “our lord the one with the eight lions”, in honor of the cacique. With this he reconciles the Mayan origins of the territory and the testimony of Bernal.

3- Nahuatl origin

For his part, José Narciso Rovirosa believes in the Nahuatl origin of the name. He concludes that it must be a derivation of «tlapalco» , which  means «place of wet earth».

Explain that this name would fit the geographical description of the territory, in which tributaries and lakes are abundant.

4- Mexican origin

Marcos Becerra, author of Geographic Names of the State of Tabasco , concludes that the name is due to the Mexican word “tlahuasco”, which means “place that has an owner.”

This would coincide with the response that the Indians of the region gave to Juan de Grijalva, when he demanded that they accept the mandate of the crown of Spain.

Most popular theory

There are many other interpretations about the origin of the name. The Mexican historian Manuel Gil y Sáenz favors the Mayan origin, while the linguist Francisco Santamaría believes in a Nahuatl origin.

But the general belief is that Bernal’s story is true. There was no reason to falsify this event, so it is believed in the veracity of this testimony.

Even Bernal’s story is consistent with the rest of the information collected, so it is accepted that the origins of this word are in the name of the great chief Tabscoob.


  1. Origin of the name Tabasco. (2015). katerynhache.wixsite.com
  2. Origins of Tabasco. (2017). mexicodesconocido.com.mx
  3. Encyclopedia of the Nations. (2004). nationsencyclopedia.com
  4. Geographic names of the state of Tabasco. Becerra, Marcos E. (1909)
  5. Toponomastics of Tabasco. (2015). heraldicamesoamericana.wordpress.com

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