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Albuquerque: Spell that again

The city of Albuquerque logo with Burque highlighted. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: Today, the Journal begins publishing “What’s in a Name?” monthly column in which staff writer Elaine Briseño will give a short history of how places in New Mexico got their names.

ALBUQUERQUE – it’s hard to pronounce and even harder to spell, especially for those who don’t call the city home.

But count your blessings: When the city was founded in 1706 by Gov. Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, it had a marathon of a name.

Valdes named the new village in honor of Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, the 10th duque (Duke) of Alburquerque, a town in Spain that still exists today near Spain’s border with Portugal.

In fact, Valdes sent a letter dated April 24, 1706, to Spanish authorities saying he “founded a villa on the banks and in the valley of the Rio del Norte in a good place as regards land, water, pasture, and firewood.”

He goes on to report that there were 252 settlers from 35 families in the newly formed villa in what is now called Old Town.

A map showing the location of the original Villa of Alburquerque.

New Mexico State Historian Rob Martinez said that “Albuquerque” means “white oak” and that it’s not clear whether its origins are Latin or Arabic.

“The original name of Albuquerque was La Villa de Alburquerque de San Francisco Xavier del Bosque,” Martinez said.

Imagine writing that on an envelope or an application for a passport. Phew! That’s some hand-numbing work.

Thankfully, most of the name was dropped – even the first “r” – giving us the city’s current official name. It’s not clear how or why the first “r” was dropped, although there are stories. Some claim the letter was dropped to make it easier to pronounce, while others say it was a mistake that stuck.

That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with shorter nicknames. Burque and ABQ are some popular variations of the city’s name, with the former taking center stage on the city’s new logo.

Albuquerque was the third Spanish villa established in what would become a U.S. territory in the 1850s and finally a state in 1912. Santa Fe was the first established villa, in approximately 1610, followed by Santa Cruz, in 1695.

The Special Collections Library in Downtown Albuquerque has hundreds of documents related Albuquerque’s founding and 250th birthday celebration, including this wooden nickel. (Elaine D. Briseño/Albuquerque Journal)

Another interesting fact about the city is that nobody can locate its birth certificate. Yes, it’s true.

The original founding documents seem to have been lost, and what is known about Albuquerque’s beginnings comes from letters and other legal documents.

It hardly seems to matter, though. Burqueños know who they are, no matter what they’re called.

So the next time you’re tempted to roll your eyes at a customer service representative on the other end of the line stumbling over the city’s name and asking, “How do you spell that?” be thankful there are only 11 letters to dictate instead of 50.

Curious about how a town, street or building got its name? Email staff writer Elaine Briseno at ebriseno@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3965 as she continues the monthly journey in “What’s in a Name?”

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