26 September 2009

Regarding the Saints' Names

In for a dime, in for a dollar. While we are on the subject of saints, let us get into a little linguistic trivia. This is interesting because it relates to so many cities' names in the southwest United States.

Santo is the masculine word for “saint” in Spanish. However, before the name of a male saint, it is nearly always shortened to San, as in San Juan, San Pedro, and San Andrés. The exceptions to this general rule are the male saints' names that start with the letters “Do” and “To,” as in Santo Domingo, Santo Tomás, and Santo Tobías.

Here is the reason for that little quirk. If we were to shorten Santo to San before names that start with the letters “Do” and “To,” confusion would reign. “San Domingo” when said aloud would sound too much like “Santo Mingo.” “San Tomás” when said aloud would sound too much like “Santo Más.” See the problem that had to be addressed? So in those cases we retain the full title Santo before the name.

I found that interesting, and I am glad that I did not leave this world before coming to an understanding of it.

The lady saints are always referred to with the full title Santa, as in Santa Rosa.

Do not ask me about Santa Claus. That name must not be Spanish.


mister anchovy said...

The exceptions. There's the rub.

Señor Steve said...

Ay, there's the rub, mr. anchovy. At least these exceptions do not swallow the rule itself entirely. That is a rub and a half when it occurs.

On a related note, I have finally sworn off using the phrase, “exception that proves the rule,” or the like. I have thought about it and thought about it. It makes one sound very wise, but what the heck does that mean? And how can that be true?

Ruth said...

The San/Santo thing. I have lived my life surrounded by Spanish names, indeed I've only once lived in a city without a Spanish name, yet I had never noticed that little distinction. Interesting.