January 17, 2008

The Name Nixzaliz

An appalling case that has been in the news recently concerns a little girl named Nixzmary who was apparently killed by one or both of her parents. News accounts reveal that her name is a blend of her grandmother's name Maria and her mother's name Nixzaliz, but where does Nixzaliz come from? My initial hypothesis was that this name came from some indigenous language of Latin America, but it turns out that the parents are Puerto Rican, which makes this unlikely. It might just be a nonce name, but I wonder if it has some interesting origin. Can any of our readers inform me as to the origin of this name?

Posted by Bill Poser at January 17, 2008 02:05 PM

Neat... this is the first time you've turned on the comments feature in this blog as far as I know.

Sorry, I have no idea about the name, though it brings to mind "Mxyzptlk" from the Superman comics.

Posted by: Dan T. at January 17, 2008 02:24 PM

We tried comments at one time but had a lot of problems with spam etc., so the experiment was discontinued. I think that Eric typically solicits comments. Anyhow, I thought I'd try it for this post since I'm asking for information and the topic is unlikely to be contentious. We'll see whether the spam bots get to it.

Posted by: Bill Poser at January 17, 2008 02:33 PM

I'm not certain but it could be of Basque origin. A lot of words and names from that region contain contain the letter, "x".


Posted by: Ronnie at January 17, 2008 02:50 PM

Oops. One too many "contain's".

Posted by: Ronnie at January 17, 2008 02:51 PM

Google shows a number of other instances of Nixzaliz, with last names like Cedeno, Ramos, and Rojas, so presumably not a nonce name.

Posted by: y at January 17, 2008 03:16 PM

There are/were indigenous people in Puerto Rico; the Taino indians who spoke "Maipurean", from which we get the words: barbacoa ("barbecue"), hamaca ("hammock"), canoa ("canoe"), tabaco ("tobacco"), yuca ("yucca"), and Huracan ("hurricane").


Posted by: Stephen at January 17, 2008 03:22 PM

I am aware that Taino was once spoken in Puerto Rico, but it has long been extinct and survives in Puerto Rican Spanish and English in placenames and few other words. It is conceivable that Nixzaliz is a Puerto Rican name of Taino origin, but it can't come directly from Taino in the same way in which a Mexican might, for example, have a non-Spanish name because he or she is a speaker of Nahuatl or Zoque or some other indigenous language.

Posted by: Bill Poser at January 17, 2008 03:36 PM

The name doesn't sound Basque. At all.

Could it be a (bad) phonetic transcription of a Spanish or English phrase? You know, like some girls in Cuba and Puerto Rico are named "Usnavi" (from U.S. Navy)

Posted by: Alf at January 17, 2008 03:56 PM

Recently? Nixzmary Brown died in January 2006. I know she's been back in the news as recriminations and shenanigans have ensued since her death; but you only noticed her forename now?

(Kind of a hard name to forget, as these things go.)

Posted by: Vee at January 17, 2008 04:02 PM

If you're going to try the comment route again, you should check out reCAPTCHA (http://www.recaptcha.net) to keep the spambots away. It's like a normal "type the distorted word" CAPTCHA, but it also gives you a second word which is from a failed OCR attempt at digitising a book. If you get the first word right, it assumes your interpretation of the second word is correct. If enough people get the same second word correct, the system has a higher confidence that the second word has been successfully decoded. Currently, the reCAPTCHA folk are using the Internet Archive's digitisation project as its source of words.

Posted by: rlink at January 17, 2008 04:06 PM

Be careful with the phrase "nonce name", in British English (and perhaps Australian too) a nonce is a child molester.

(No idea about etymology in case anyone asks.)

Posted by: Andrew Clegg at January 17, 2008 04:19 PM

I, unfortunately, cannot help you in your search for the history of Nixzaliz, but I have a comment for Stephen. I may be commiting virtual suicide by relying on my family's oral history rather than an academic text. Nonetheless, I want to bring up that I was under the impression that "barbacoa" came from the Sephardic influence in Mexico--lamb and goat head became a delicacy due to eating everything "de la barba a la cola [from the beard to the tail]."

Posted by: Stalina at January 17, 2008 04:30 PM

Andrew, that's far from a universal usage in British English; I've lived in England all my life, and the only time I've ever encountered the paedophile sense of "nonce" was while the Brass Eye scandal was in the news. But I've been using "nonce" in the sense Bill uses it here ever since I encountered the concept of nonce-words in secondary school English lessons.

Posted by: Fred at January 17, 2008 04:38 PM

Googling "Nixaliz -Santiago" to weed out news stories produced a link to http://www.babynames.org.uk/puerto-rican-baby-names.htm,
which gives a few other similar, almost-Spanish-sounding names like Mayra-Liz and Idaliz. Perhaps this come from local changes to Spanish, e.g. Maria-Luisa to Mayra-Liz, which to me sounds somehow similar to other regional changes like Southern vs. Northern Italy. I can't seem to find anything online that gives the derivation or meaning of Nixzaliz.

Posted by: henitsirk at January 17, 2008 04:48 PM

Comments are great. I also vote that you get Captcha/reCaptcha, because without comments a blog is...nothing.

I'll think about this and see. The Z and X sounds almost sound Nahua, but the name does seem to be puertorriqueño. I searched google.com.mx for nixzaliz -santiago but didn't see anything of interest.

Posted by: jenny at January 17, 2008 06:02 PM

That's the first time I've heard a Spanish version of the folk etymology of "barbecue"; usually it's French. The OED says:

ad. Sp. barbacoa, a. Haitian barbacòa (E. B. Tylor) 'a framework of sticks set upon posts'; evidently the same as the babracot (? a French spelling) of the Indians of Guyana, mentioned by Im Thurn. (The alleged Fr. barbe à queue 'beard to tail,' is an absurd conjecture suggested merely by the sound of the word.)

(My word, the server sure makes it hard to paste in non-ASCII characters!)

Posted by: Mark A. Mandel at January 17, 2008 06:41 PM

In Mexico, "barbacoa" is not exactly "barbecue." I still appreciate your research, Mark A. Mandel. Thanks.

Posted by: Stalina at January 17, 2008 06:59 PM

Wow, OED, tell us how you really feel.

Posted by: anonymouseducator at January 17, 2008 07:17 PM

It appears in a list of Puerto Rican girl's names at http://www.babynames.org.uk/puerto-rican-baby-names.htm , but with no further information given.

Thanks for opening up comments.

Posted by: John Cowan at January 17, 2008 07:19 PM

Give the variations in spellings of names in general, I wonder if it might come from a different name. I have found references to dunira nasalis, a moth, and the Nazalis, apparently a Persian sect. I also wonder about spelling variations given the pronunciation of some letters in Spanish or Mexican Spanish.

Posted by: Mark P at January 17, 2008 07:20 PM

nonce - noun Brit. informal a sexual deviant, especially a child molester.

1970s (orig. prison sl.): of unknown origin.

© Oxford University Press, 2004

Posted by: Dejan at January 17, 2008 07:33 PM

Also, I don't think the OED is right to say that the etymology is suggested "merely" by the sound of the word. Suppose "barbecue" happened to sound like the French words for "checkbook" and "jade."

Posted by: anonymouseducator at January 17, 2008 08:18 PM

Searched for the name on line and it came up on a list of "Puerto Rican Baby Names" . Also there are 38 listings on a US directory (online) with that first name (including some repeats.)

Posted by: barbara at January 17, 2008 10:19 PM

anonymouseducator, you should probably have a coherent point when you make a posting. I worry for our children. This probably explains why you post anonymously; you don't have the confidence to stand behind your words, and for obvious reason.

Posted by: edwardian at January 18, 2008 03:28 AM

There is a small but existent net-presence for the variants a number of variants like 'Nixzalis' and 'Nixsaliz' (which are homophonous in non-peninsular Spanish). In particular, social networking sites such as Facebook and Hi5 show a variety of hits, so the name is present as a name, apparently in a variety of countries.

I haven't actually heard this name in the wild, but it fits a pattern that I have seen quite a bit of in Central America, namely female names ending in [-is]. I know there is a diminutive nicknaming suffix which is used semi-productively by at least some speakers of some American Spanish varieties. This pattern is often reanalyzed into names with non-Spanish origins, in particular female names, which in turn come to be popular. Examples range from the fairly run-of-the-mill like 'Doris' and 'Francis' to more exotic names like 'Isis' and 'Osiris.' Whatever its origin may turn out to be, I would be willing to bet it got (or is getting) popular on the coat-tails of the [-is] ending phenomenon.

I rather doubt the Nahuatl or Basque theories of origin, but I wouldn't be the best judge.

On another note, the Real Academia Española agrees with the Taino origin of Spanish 'barbacoa.' I thought that was generally accepted, but the folk etymologies are still entertaining. This doesn't seem incongruous with similar reflexes of the source word in related languages in Haiti or Caribbean South America. Whether English got it from French (ultimately from Taino or even another Arawakan language), again, I couldn't say.

Posted by: J at January 18, 2008 05:23 AM

Well, there is only one .es site that mentions any variation of the name at all (try "nixaliz OR nixalis OR nixsaliz OR nixzalis OR nixzaliz site:.es"); changing the domain to .mx gives just two hits; all three hits refer to the same story. So European or Mexican origins are not very likely.

Posted by: Theo at January 18, 2008 06:18 AM

barbecue: Surely if this word had a French origin, there would still be such a word in French. There is not, but 'barbecue' (pronounced as if it was a French word 'barbequiou') has been borrowed from American English. As for the alleged "barbe à queue", it would not mean 'beard to tail' but 'beard with a tail'.

Posted by: marie-Lucie Tarpent at January 18, 2008 07:46 AM

J, may I point out that I think Isis and Osiris is unlikely to have come from the production rule you mention - but rather from the Egyptian gods names?

Something similar seems to be happening with Doris and Francis - Francis deriving from Franciscus, Doris to either the Greek goddess?

Posted by: Erwin at January 18, 2008 08:15 AM

The story is in the news again because Nixzmary's stepfather's trial for her murder has just started. (His defence is that the mother, Nixzaliz, is the killer; her trial starts shortly.) Surely the puzzle is not where the "iz" ending comes from -- it's just the spelling of the "Alice" section -- but the source of the Nixz prefix?

Posted by: nbm at January 18, 2008 08:30 AM

Thanks for the helpful tip, edwardian.

The OED says that the incorrect etymology for "barbecue"- the "absurd conjecture" - is suggested "merely" by the sound of the French words for "beard" and "tail". I don't think that's right. If it were suggested merely by the sound it shouldn't matter whether or not there was some plausible explanation for why those two words would come to mean "barbecue."

For instance, if the words that sounded like "barbecue" were words for which it would be very difficult to find an explanation of how they came to mean "barbecue" - "checkbook" and "jade" for instance - then you could say it was "merely" the sound. But in that case I don't think there would be much conjecture about that etymology in the first place.

Posted by: anonymouseducator at January 18, 2008 09:46 AM

Erwin: The Egyptian deities are most definitely the source for those names, and I feel reasonably sure that the sources for 'Doris' and 'Francis' are in fact 'Doris' (as in '...Day') and 'Francis,' (as in '... Ford Coppola which are not uncommon names. I believe the [-is] as a familiar (and mostly feminine) diminutive has been reanalyzed into these existing forms. It accounts for the popularity of 'Osiris' as a female given name, as opposed to, say, a variety of 'Thoth' or 'Horus' or 'Amon.' There is no strong semantic reason to name a girl 'Osiris,' (a particularly masculine god) and except that it has both the components -iris 'rainbow, spectrum of color' and the cute, effeminate sounding -is ending.

That contrasts to calling a girl who's last name is Mata something like 'Matis' out of "cuteness," which is a case of the semi-productive suffix.

Posted by: j at January 18, 2008 11:20 AM

I think the discussion of the folk etymologies of "barbeque" that's erupted here shows the real reason the comments are usually turned off. It's not the spam, it's the nonsense!

I do love me some checkbookjade chicken, mmmmm!

Posted by: O3 at January 18, 2008 11:20 AM

I don't have time to check know, but I have the impression that the gay designer character in the Mexican novela 'La fea más bella' used the [-is] suffix a lot with adjectives, and I believe that the it-girl/heiress Barbie Bazterrica in the novela 'Pasiones Prohibidas' did to. You might find productive, non-reanalysized examples googling those two.

Posted by: j at January 18, 2008 11:34 AM

Oh, I don't think the folk etymology is right. I was just making a point about the OED's (to me) unnecessary commentary about it.

Is it normal for the OED to debunk folk etymologies with such vehemence?

Posted by: anonymouseducator at January 18, 2008 12:22 PM

Could it be a derivative of Nicholas? Shortened to Nixza and then turned into a feminine diminutive with -liz?

Posted by: vernalhill at January 18, 2008 01:25 PM

But the nonsense (when it springs from the conversation, as this does) is what makes blogs fun!

Blogs and forums, when they are appealing, and when they work well, are conversations. To force them to be always on topic robs them of power.

Posted by: Talley Sue Hohlfeld at January 18, 2008 01:44 PM

Without doing any research at all, my first thought upon seeing the names was that the "Nixz-" part was a respelling of "Nick's". On that theory, Nixzaliz would be something like, "Alice, who is the daughter of Nick".

It seems of a piece with the (what seems to me to be common) practice of substituting "y" for random vowels in children's names in the hope of uniqueness.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at January 18, 2008 01:47 PM

Barbecue - here in the Philippines, we have a hearty dish called balbacua. It's made, as a soup, from the bones and skin, and various unmentionable parts of a pig, cow or carabao (water buffalo).

It presumably comes from Spanish barbacoa, wherever that came from.

I completely concur with the praise heaped on the blog writers for opening up comments.

Posted by: Richard01 at January 18, 2008 10:24 PM

I also concur with the warning to be careful using the word 'nonce'.
Last time I was in prison in England, all the child-molesters were isolated in a separate 'hospital ward'. They were loathed, and beaten up by the normal prison population, who all had the right testosterone content (or perhaps a bit more of it, but that's a different story).

I would have thought that professional linguists could come up with a very simple substitute word: nonse.

Posted by: Richard01 at January 18, 2008 10:34 PM

Good day my friends, the name Nixzaliz is a compound name which comes derived by the names of
Nixza and Liz which is short for Lizbeth or Elilazabeth. But the name Nixza is used here in PR. It was created around mid 40's. But its origin is from indian natives that used the letter X in their names a lot like Guarionex or Caguax. I've met women called Anixza or Anixa or just plain Nixza. Actually to be more specific its my next door neighbor, shes was born around late 40's or early 50's, and she's called Nixza. I hope this could be of help Bill. Take Care!

Posted by: Johan Rodriguez at January 19, 2008 08:35 AM


I happened to have read the answer to that question a few days ago. There is a lot of smartass talk among the replying people answering the question, but the first person to respond has a point in my opinion. Enjoy!

Posted by: Kim at January 19, 2008 01:35 PM

I correct myself, it is not the first answer that has a point, but the answer chosen as best answer... Logically. ;) Sorry about that.

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Posted by: Emily at January 20, 2008 10:13 PM

Like Johan, I'm from PR and there is a tradition of mixing up names: parent's, grandparent's or any name the parents like into an amalgamation that the parent's feel is "unique" and will help their child stand out. Unfortunately, this most often leads to nasty nicknames, misspelled names and on occasion, inadvertent naming their child after a disease or other calamity. Nixaliz is probably like he said, Nixia + liz. "Liz" has become a common "suffix" because it sounds the same in English and Spanish and the parents feel they are giving the child a more international sounding name.

Posted by: Laura at January 22, 2008 09:55 AM

Let me give you some words of advice...

Don't bother trying to analyze this. Puerto Rican parents often visit much wretchedness unto their children's lives, usually at the very beginning, when they give those poor kids whatever name they thought was cute, or clever, or musical, or whatever.

Sometimes... sometimes... there is no science or methodology at work behind these naming conventions... at least, none that mankind can make sense of.

Sometimes... this is simply good intentions gone horribly awry.

And I can say this as I say it because I've lived every last millisecond of my 29 years of earthbound existence in the land where I was born... Puerto Rico.

Admire this the same way you would anything of an imponderable nature: with curiosity, with awe,and maybe -- just maybe -- with a little bit of fear as well.

Posted by: Javier at January 22, 2008 10:06 AM

The folk etymology of "nonce" meaning sexual offender is that it comes from the phrase "nonsense crime", since "ordinary decent criminals" could not understand the motivations of sex offenders. I'm surprised that the OED doesn't at least give a nod to this possible derivation. I'm even more surprised at the people who think linguists should give up the term "nonce word" because of what "nonce" can also mean. Get a grip - this is the sort of super-bowdlerising nonsense that has Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a hoofed long-eared quadruped.

Posted by: Terry Collmann at January 22, 2008 02:10 PM