FIGURE 7. Greenstone fire serpent (xiuhcoatl) statuette. viewed from the side and from below. The snout of this beast has been broken off; in the profile photo the fire serpent is facing to the left, and you can still see three of his curved triangular teeth. Dumbarton Oaks Museum (PC.B.069). Photo by Justin Kerr © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.
FIGURE 16. The personal name of Moctezuma II on the Calendar Stone.
FIGURE 17. The personal names of Itzcoatl and Axayacatzin on folio 2r of the Matrícula de Tributos.
FIGURE 18. The personal name of Moctezuma II represented as a twisted Tlaxcalan headband in Cell 11 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURA 19. The personal name of Pedro de Alvarado represented as a sun in Cell 18 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 20. The name of Moctezuma I written phonetically in Cell 11 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
In the previous paragraphs, we have considered how the Central Mexican calendar was used to keep track of a number of different cycles of time. In the last section, we saw how the day names of the tonalpohualli were also used to give names to different suns: 4 Jaguar, 4 Wind, 4 Rain, 4 Water, 4 Motion. Significantly, the days of the tonalpohualli were also used to give names to people. People were named for the day on which they were born. Each day was thought to have a different symbolic meaning, and so the day on which you were born was thought to indicate the kind of person you would be as an adult.25
Many different peoples in Mesoamerica also took their names from the 260-day calendar. The Ã’udzavui of Oaxaca are one example. The pages of the Codex Nuttall and Codex Selden are filled with people accompanied by their calendric names: Lady 6 Monkey, Lady 3 Flint, Lord 12 Wind. Curiously, however, people in Central Mexico apparently kept their day names secret.26 Instead (at least in written documents) they were referred to by ‘personal names’ which were not connected to the calendar. Most of these personal names referred to objects and natural phenomena, and so were easy to represent pictorially. For example, the name ‘Moctezuma’ means ‘Angry Lord’ in Nahuatl. This name was written by depicting the costume elements worn by Aztec lords. These included a turquoise mosaic crown and a turquoise nose ornament.27 These two elements appear on both the Calendar Stone and on the base of the fire serpent statue we have looked at before (Figure 7, 16). The presence of these signs indicates that both of these objects were created during the reign of Moctezuma II.28 Similarly, in the Matrícula de Tributos the names of two of Moctezuma’s predecessors are indicated by pictorial glyphs (Figure 17). The name of tlatoani Itzcoatl, ‘Obsidian Serpent,’ is indicated by the drawing of a serpent with obsidian arrowheads bristling from its back. (Itzcoatl ruled from 1427 to 1440). Similarly, the name of the tlatoani Axayacatzin, ‘Venerated Face of Water,’ is indicated by the stream of water splashing down the tlatoani’s face (Axayacatzin ruled from 1469 to 1481).29
Personal names are also depicted in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Interestingly, they are given to both Europeans and Native Americans. When Moctezuma II is shown in Cell 11, his ‘Angry Lord’ name is not represented using the turquoise crown that was the sign of rulership for the Aztecs. Instead, his name glyph’“drawn in front of him’“is represented as a twisted red-and-white headband, which was the sign of nobility for the Tlaxcalans (who, after all, were the people who created this image; Figure 18).30 In Cell 18, the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado is indicated by drawing a blazing sun behind him. Alvarado was blond, like the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh. (Remember that this is the god whose face appears at the center of the Calendar Stone). As a result, Nahuatl-speakers gave him the nickname of Tonatiuh, ‘Sun God.’ Just as Moctezuma was named by drawing a large royal headdress in front of him, so was Alvarado named by drawing a large sun behind him (Figure 19).31
Other personal names in the Lienzo are written out phonetically, using a syllabic system of writing that had developed in Central Mexico. (The details of this phonetic writing system are discussed in more detail in the ‘Mesoamerican Syllabaries’ tutorial). To take one example, consider another detail from Cell 11 of the Lienzo (Figure 20). As we saw above, this scene includes an image of the tlatoani Moctezuma II, who is named by an image of a Tlaxcalan twisted headband. This ruler is referred to as Moctezuma II because another ruler named Moctezuma had ruled before him (from 1440 to 1469). This ruler is mentioned by name in Cell 11. One of the unusual features of Aztec rulership in Tenochtitlan is that each tlatoani built his own, new palace. This contrasts with practices outside of the capital, where ruling families tended to live in the same palace for generations32. The building in which Cortés and Malinche are seated has a series of signs on its roof. These include a man, a stone, a clay jar, a lump of clay, and a hand. These signs are taken from the Central Mexican syllabic writing system, and can be read as we (the man), te (the stone), ko (the jar), tzo (the lump of clay), and ma (the hand).33 Together, these signs are we te-ko-tzo-ma. Central Mexican phonetic spelling was usually only partial, so these signs were probably meant to be read as Wewe Motekotzoma, ‘Old Moctezuma’ in Nahuatl (we[we] [mo]tekotzoma). In other words, this scene shows Cortés and Malinche talking to Moctezuma II and his advisors from within the palace of Moctezuma I. A number of other phonetically-spelled names appear on the surface of the Lienzo; for other examples, see both the ‘Mesoamerican Syllabaries’ tutorial as well as the interpretive text of the Lienzo itself.
25 Furst 1995, 76-81; Monaghan 1998.
26 Furst 1995, 81.
27 Umberger 1988, 350-352.
28 Umberger 1988, 356-358.
29 Berdan and Anawalt 1992, 233, 235.
30 Chavero 1892, 30.
31 Chavero 1892, 41.
32 Smith 2003, 187.
33 This interpretation is based on arguments made by Alfredo Chavero in 1892 (Chavero 1892, 30).