7000 Spanish Words are Moorish in Origin
Posted on August 9, 2012 by Cristala Mussato-Allen
Many people is the U.S. that have Spanish surnames may not really have roots from Spain, since alot of names just sound Spanish, but do not originate there and may be Greek or Arabic. This may be of some comfort to people of blended races that have mixed feelings about their Spanish side. This subject came up when a friend was visiting whose name is Anna Jimenez. I mentioned that “Jimenez” is a famous Greek named spelled “Ximenes” and especially “Anaximenes” a famous man in early Greek medicine. Many people with Spanish surnames are not Spanish at all, but Indigenous people who were given names by the Spanish the same way Indigenous people in the United States were given English names by the Americans. Also, many Hispanics in South Texas are of Basque origin who are not actually Spanish, but an ethnic Indigenous minority in Spain also fighting the government for their rights.
The Mediterranean is not a very large area geographically, for example, it is just under 700 miles from Greece to Egypt. If you are trying to dig back to your family history, even if you don’t know where your family originated, sometimes tracing the meaning of your name can be helpful.
After Latin and English, Arabic is probably the biggest contributor of words to the Spanish language, and is largely the main difference between Spanish and Italian. The Latin dialect that eventually became Spanish was highly influenced by the invasion of the Arabic-speaking Moors in 711. Since Muslims were in Spain and Sicily for 800 years, there is a heavy Moorish influence in both locations. For many centuries, Latin, Spanish and Arabic existed side by side. It wasn’t until late in the 15th century that the Moors were expelled by the Inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella. Once Spain occupied Sicily, all Muslims and Jews were also driven out of Sicily or were forced to convert or have their land confiscated.
Many took their prayer ceremonies ”underground” to escape persecution. Culture in the areas around the Mediterranean coastline are more Moorish-Greek, while in the northern part it is more Celtic-Roman. In fact, much of the Spanish influences in Mexican traditional medicine (Curanderimso) come from the Greek-Moorish culture. In Mexico, you will hear curanderas speak of the “Andalucians”. The acequias built by the Spanish in New Mexico are not Spanish in origin, they are Moorish and even Roman. The blue paint around the doors and windows to keep out witches can be seen all over Sicily, Greece and the Middle East.
Sicilian Tombstome from a Multicultural history: inscriptions in Latin (left) Greek (right) Hebrew (top) Arabic (bottom)
The English words you’re most likely to think of as Arabic origin are those that start with “al-,” words such as “algebra,” “alkali” and “alchemy,” and they exist in Spanish as álgebra, Alá, álkali and alkimia, respectively. But they are far from the only ones. A variety of other types of common words such as “coffee,” “zero” and “sugar” (café, cero and azúcar in Spanish) also come from Arabic.
Although it is believed that the English words “alfalfa” and “alcove,” which originally were Arabic, entered English by way of Spanish (alfalfa and alcoba), most Arabic words in English probably entered English by other routes.
A few samples:
adobe: Arabic at-tuba from Coptic ad-dabba
azúcar: sugar. From Arabic sukkar
hasta: Until. From Arabic hatta
loco: crazy. From Arabic lawqa “fool.”
ojalá: I hope; I wish. From law šaʾ allāh “God willing.”
zábila: aloe vera From Andalusi Arabic sabíra
Guadalupe wadii + lupum River of the Wolf
Guadalajara wadii al-Hajara River of Rock
Madrid from al-MagrīT “Source of water”.
Trace the meaning of your “Spanish’ surname
And for an extensive list of Spanish-Arabic words and their original meanings
Cristala Mussato-Allen, Caddo/Arbereshe-Sicilian, is a public speaker, activist, artist, Guaritana-Sobardora and practitioner of Sicilian traditional medicine. Ms. Mussato-Allen is also the Founder/Executive Director of NativeWorkplace.com, a Native operated non-profit with a focus on Green jobs.