Question via email: Which is correct, Nueva México or Nuevo México? I have seen and heard both.
Answer: You're right, both of those names seem to be in fairly common use, and an argument can even be made for a third spelling, Nuevo Méjico. But in my view, the strongest argument rests with Nuevo México, for two main reasons:
- Nuevo México is the spelling used by the Diccionario de la lengua española, the Royal Spanish Academy's dictionary and the closest thing there is to an internationally accepted standard for the language.
- Nuevo México is the spelling that appears to be preferred by the New Mexico state government. While the feminine form can be found occasionally on state-run websites, the masculine form is far, far more common.
Both the masculine and feminine forms have a long history. The first well-known book about the area an epic poem and travelogue was "Historia de la Nueva México" written by Capitán Gaspar de Villagrá in 1610. Indeed, many older writings use the feminine form, while the masculine form predominates today.
The "default" gender for place names is masculine for place names that don't end in an unstressed -a. But the "New" place names are a common exception for example, New York is Nueva York and New Jersey is Nueva Jersey. New Orleans is Nueva Orleáns, although that can be explained by its derivation from the French name, which is feminine. Both Nueva Hampshire and Nuevo Hampshire are used in referring to New Hampshire. There's a Nueva Londres in Paraguay, and the city of New London in Connecticut is sometimes referred to by that name as well in Spanish-language texts. Perhaps it is the influence of the many Nueva place names that encourages continued use of Nueva México in popular speech and writing.
As to the use of the spelling Nuevo Méjico (the pronunciation is the same as for Nuevo México, where the x is pronounced like the Spanish j, not as in English), it's considered an acceptable spelling by the Academy. It's the spelling used in state law for the pledge to the state flag and in the Spanish-language state song. However, there is also a bilingual state song, and it uses the spelling Nuevo México. So take your pick.
Comments or questions? See the blog post about New Mexico.