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The game of the name

Por: | 19 de mayo de 2014

On 25th May, two votes will take place in Spain. The first will elect new members of the European parliament, and the second will occur in the community of Castrillo Matajudíos, where the residents will decide whether to change the village name, which literally means ‘Killjews’, on the grounds that it really doesn’t sound very nice in this day and age. The two votes are quite distinct: one could be seen as lacking in importance with the result serving only a few people in a far away place, whereas the other could see a historic village name disappear.

As anyone who has travelled in Spain knows, spotting unusual names for small communities is great fun, rather like spotting red telephone boxes or finding a motorway service station with decent food in the UK. Castrillo Matajudíos may be stronger than most, but that’s not to say that it’s unique in its curiosity factor. From an English perspective, tourists who like being surprised may wish to visit the village of Boo in Cantabria, those wishing to avoid public transport could perhaps take in Busdongo, north of León, or those feeling sleepy could head for Tobed near Zaragoza.

As far as killing is concerned, Castrillo Matajudíos is certainly not alone, and a number of other places can thrust their sword into the body of contention. La Matanza, near Alicante, means ‘the slaughter’, originating from ancient battles that were fought in the area. There are also the villages of Matamorosa and Matarrepudio, both south of Santander. Regardless of origins, morosa can mean ‘in arrears or slow to pay’, whilst repudio means ‘repudiation’ – the refusal to acknowledge or pay a debt. Should you wish to visit, avoiding any financial difficulties may be a good idea. Matalobos del Páramo, in Castilla y León, basically means ‘kill the wolves of the plain’, whilst Asturias veers from killing to death with the villages of La Degollada and El Pozo de las Mujeres Muertas. The first translates as ‘a woman with her throat cut’, although it actually refers to a cut or pass in the landscape, whilst the second means ‘the well of the dead women’. The good news is that Mujeres Muertas seems to have originated due to terrain and linguistic changes, so don’t worry too much about the local water supply.

Bypassing killing and death, it’s not all compliance or eternal happiness elsewhere. Paganos, in País Vasco, translates as ‘pagans’, even though the location boasts a 16th-century church. For those who are finding it hard to smile under the current economic crisis, maybe the best option would be Triste in Aragon, which means ‘sad’. However, as recently as March last year, an advertising campaign by an ice cream company chose to convert the community temporarily to ‘the most joyous in Spain’ and gave the locals the chance to show that their character was contrary to the village name. As Triste is wonderfully situated at the side of a reservoir, perhaps the only slightly sad aspect is that the population has fallen from 399 in 1941 to around 12 today. EP_village_xornalcerto
A village sign can be an important part of its anatomy.     Photo:Flickr (CC) xornalcerto

For sheer good fun, Malcocinado (badly cooked) in the province of Badajoz and the unforgettable Villapene (penistown) near Lugo, where residents are fed up with the sign for their village being stolen, are both recommended. If you’re looking for a good hen night, then perhaps you should head for Pollos (chickens) in Valladolid, whilst for salad-lovers the villages of Cebolla and Pepino (onion and cucumber) can be found in Toledo, although it’s open to question whether the residents refer to themselves as onions and cucumbers. Toledo also hosts Buenasbodas (goodweddings). Close to Murcia, Nonduermas (don’t you sleep) may sound the perfect village for insomniacs, but its name is believed to have come from the instruction given by officers to soldiers during the period of the Christian reconquest.

In trying to select the most curious, Venta de las Ranas (sale of the frogs), in Asturias, certainly jumps out of the pond of choices. The name seems to have originated when some local land was sold, became flooded, and was then inundated with, not surprisingly, frogs. The village used to be a centre for barrel making, especially for cider, but there is no suggestion of a link between the consumption of the beverage and the vision of countless amphibians. EP_crop_village_frog_S_Rae
Names can be spawned by strange events                        Photo: Flickr (CC) S.Rae

Returning to Castrillo Matajudíos, the mayor, Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, points out that there is no evidence to connect the village with the act of its name. In fact, the name has existed for almost four hundred years, and there is a likelihood that it was created long ago by a spelling mistake in an official register, having originally been Motajudíos, with mota meaning ‘hill’. Clerical errors have always caused problems, so the theory raises questions about how some areas of London may have fared at the hands of a careless script. Would Notting Kill have become the pleasant location it is today? Would you shop in Coven Garden? Worst of all, would you land at an airport called Deathrow?

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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