Archive for September, 2013

About Martinez – Part 2

September 24, 2013

The Wikipedia entry for the history of Martinez (the city) begins as follows:

In 1824 the Alhambra Valley was included in the Rancho El Pinole Mexican land grant to Ygnacio Martínez.

The reference for this information is given as the webpage of the Martinez Historical Society, whose text reads:

In 1824, the Alhambra Valley was  included in a 17,000 acre land grant awarded to Don Ygnacio Martinez by the  Mexican government for services rendered to the Royal Spanish and Mexican  armies.

Aside from the fact that the source gives the size of the land grant while the Wikipedia entry gives its name, and that the former is more complete, another difference is that the city’s eponym is cited in Wikipedia as Martínez (with an accent in the i) and by the MHS as Martinez (with no accent).

In Spanish, surnames of the -ez type require an acute accent on the penultimate vowel to indicate that this vowel is stressed. (Never mind the peculiar American habit of stressing names like Perez and Chavez on the last syllable.) But this rule was not in effect in 1824, or in 1849 when the city (then only an unincorporated town) was named. In fact, as late as 1913 a Spanish instruction book published in London (The Spanish Language as Now Spoken and Written, by R. D. Monteverde), includes the following:,

FernandezI have been unable to find the year in which the Royal Spanish Academy introduced the new rule, but a search using the Google Ngram Viewer for such pairs as Fernandez/Fernández, Martinez/Martínez, Lopez/López and Perez/Pérez shows that the change took place largely between 1870 and 1890. An 1881 book (Memorias de un setentón by Ramón Mesonero Romanos), which I consulted extensively while writing my novel Prince of the Peace, still follows the old rule.

It therefore seems to me that to use, when writing in English, the modernized Spanish spelling of an early-19th-century Californio’s surname is just as much of an anachronism as it would be to respell his first name as Ignacio.

But Wikipedia does more than that. In the introductory paragraph it gives the “Spanish” pronunciation as /mɑrˈtiːnɛθ/ mar-TEE-neth, as though the pronunciation prevalent in northern and central Spain were the one appropriate for a Mexican subject. And it explains the name as “meaning: Martinson”.

Now, there is no element in Martínez that carries the meaning of “son”. It’s true, the names of this type began life as patronymics, and remained so until the 13th century. It’s also true that in many places the meaning of such names is explained as “son of …” This is in part a mistranslation of the corresponding Spanish hijo de… The Spanish language is one in which, at least traditionally, the masculine includes the feminine. Thus padres means ‘fathers’, but it also means ‘parents’; reyes means ‘kings’, but also ‘king and queen’; hijos means ‘sons’ but also ‘children’.

There is some similarity here to Hebrew: the Israelites who are referred to in the Hebrew Bible as B’nei Yisrael (literally ‘sons of Israel’), are called ‘children of Israel’ from the Wycliffe Bible on.

Indeed, the -z ending for patronymics was used for daughters just as for sons: the daughters of Rodrigo Díaz (“El Cid”) are known as Cristina Rodríguez and María Rodríguez, just as his son was Diego Rodríguez. In other words, hijo de should be rendered as ‘child of’.

While there is no single theory of the etymology of the -z patronymics in Spanish (and their -s analogues in Portuguese and Catalan), the most widely accepted one is that the origin is Gothic, that is, Germanic, and corresponds to the common Germanic genitive ending -s. Surnames of this name are common in the Western Germanic languages, and plentiful in English: Jones, Edwards, Richards, Michaels, Peters…

A confirmation of the genitive nature of the ending is given by the fact that in Latin documents, when a patronymic is given, it usually takes the form of the Latin genitive. King Peter I of Aragon and Navarre, the son of Sancho V, appears in one document as Petrus Sancii (the genitive of Sancius, the Latin form of Sancho) and in another as Petrus Sangiz (an approximation to the vernacular form whose modern spelling would be Sánchez).

It follows that, etymologically speaking, such English surnames as Harris, Michaels and Peters are exactly analogous, in substance and form, to the Spanish Enríquez, Miguélez and Pérez, respectively.

About Martinez — Part 1

September 17, 2013

For some reason, I have recently been thinking about Martinez, the city (in California) and its name.

I have no particular reason to think about Martinez, except for the fact it’s the capital (county seat) of Contra Costa County, where I live. But our county is divided by a largely unpopulated range of hills, mostly preserved as parkland, into a western part (called West County), which includes my city of El Cerrito, and a very much larger eastern part, where Martinez is located. And I have not needed to go to Martinez for the county services that I have needed, such as the court and  hazardous-waste disposal, because they have branches in Richmond (the hub of West County), while the county’s public library has a branch in El Cerrito that is a short walk from my house.

If I want to go to eastern Contra Costa by public transit, I need to take a BART train to Oakland, in Alameda County to the south, and there transfer to another train. West County, in fact, forms a continuous demographic unit with the western part of Alameda County, which is similarly divided by the same range of hills from its (relatively smaller) eastern part, though eastern Contra Costa extends further south than does West County, and a significant portion of the Berkeley Hills has Alameda County (specifically Berkeley and Oakland) on its western (more exactly southwestern) side and Contra Costa on its eastern (northeastern) side. And while eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties are not as continuously populated as is the west, there too the county line is not demographically significant, as the case of the Tri-Valley, which straddles the line.

The county system has come to North America from England. But since the 19th century the British Parliament has passed, seemingly every few years, a Local Government Act redefining the functions and boundaries of counties (and other municipal units). The California system, on the other hand, formed in the 19th century, has for over a hundred years been impervious to reform; the last change occurred in 1907, with the formation of Imperial County. As they are now, counties in California range in population from 10 million (Los Angeles) to a little over a thousand (Alpine).

But at least every square meter of California’s territory belongs to a county. When it comes to other units of local government, the situation is bewildering. Some areas are incorporated as cities (or, in a few cases, towns); other areas are not (and get their municipal services directly from the county). Cities, moreover, can vary widely in their degree of independence from county government — some have their own police and fire departments, libraries and so on, and others don’t.

And then there are the special districts. Besides the almost ubiquitous school districts, there are districts for such things as community colleges, water supply, refuse collection, sewage, transportation, parks, mosquito abatement (!) — you name it. (According to my property-tax bill, I pay taxes to at least seven such districts.) Each district has its own boundaries, usually overlapping other districts, and each has a governing board (either directly elected or appointed by other elected bodies) and executive staff.

The inefficiency and wastefulness of the system are obvious, as are the possibilities for corruption. The appointed executives of both the regular municipalities and special districts often command salaries that are scandalously high (the recent City of Bell scandal is only the most notorious). The restriction on property taxes imposed by Proposition 13 means that the available tax revenues have to be spread thin, and several cities have recently had to declare bankruptcy.

Can anything be done? Well, California is too big to be governed centrally, and the counties are both too variable in size and too badly defined demographically to be viable units of local government on a statewide basis. What I have long believed is that California should be divided into a number (perhaps eight to twelve) of naturally defined self-governing regions, and each such region could then follow the model of Scotland. Yes, those thrifty Scots: their country (of 5 million people) is divided into 32 council areas, “whose councils are unitary authorities responsible for the provision of all local government services” (Wikipedia). There are also, as of this year, a single police force and a single fire-and-rescue service for all of Scotland.

I would be not at all averse to living in a region defined by the San Francisco Bay Area and in a municipality defined more or less by West County, which would provide all my local government services. Then I wouldn’t have to think about Martinez at all.

Except perhaps about the name. I’ll write about that next time.