Los Tocayos Carlos

Los Tocayos Carlos

On December 7, 1989, having been convicted of the 1983 murder of  a woman named Wanda López, Carlos DeLuna became the thirty-third person to be executed in Texas after the state’s reinstitution of the death penalty in 1982. (As of August 7, 2012, Texas has performed an additional 451 executions since DeLuna’s.) In 2003, members of Columbia Law School’s Innocence Project began an investigation of DeLuna’s case, eventually concluding that it was not DeLuna who had killed Wanda López but, rather, a man named Carlos Hernández. (Hernández died in prison in 1999 while serving a sentence for unrelated crimes.) The Innocence Project released its report, Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution (http://www3.law.columbia.edu/hrlr/ltc/) in the Spring of 2012, causing considerable stir and gaining substantial coverage in the news media at home and abroad (see, e.g., http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/15/carlos-texas-innocent-man-death).

So, why “Los Tocayos Carlos?” The short answer is that the murderer and the man convicted of the crime were both Latinos named “Carlos” and in Spanish the word tocayos refers to people who share the same name—Carlos DeLuna was Carlos Hernández’s tocayo, and vice versa, by virtue of their both being named “Carlos.” But more to the point, the word tocayo expresses a relationship that, for many speakers of English, the usual Spanish-English dictionary gloss—‘namesake’—fails to encompass and for whom “The Carlos Namesakes” would imply that DeLuna and Hernández were both named after someone (possibly two different people) named Carlos, not that they shared a common name. Compare, for example, the entry for namesake in the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary—“One that is named after another. [< the phrase for the name’s sake.]”—with the corresponding entry in the on-line Oxford English Dictionary—“A. n. A person who or a thing which has the same name as another. B. adj. That shares the same name as someone or something else previously mentioned. Now chiefly N. Amer.” Other (North American) dictionaries offer the combo platter: The venerable Century Dictionary of 1890 glosses namesake as “One who is named after or for the sake of another; hence, one who has the same name as another,” while the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1971) has “1. A person named after another. 2. A person having the same name as another.”

The OED observes with respect to the origin of the word namesake (which it dates to the 1600s) that “This compound may have arisen from earlier phrases such as for one’s name(‘s) sake, for name sake,” and gives as its first definition of the phrase for the sake of; for (one’s, a thing’s) sake as “Out of consideration for; on account of one’s interest in, or regard for (a person); on (a person’s) account.” (Compare the keepsake you bought to remind you of your trip to Vegas, a place that some consider Godforsaken, a place that God has put out of mind.)  The OED dates the phrase from the thirteenth century, which suggests that the “named-after” sense of namesake given by the AHD and others is closer to the original meaning and that the more general definition given by the OED (and echoed as secondary senses by other dictionaries) represents an extension of the relationship to the one embodied in Spanish tocayo.

Like the debate over the source of syphilis (see https://viabrevis.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/pox-and-pains-stage-2/) the origin of the word tocayo involves a face-off between the New World and the Old. Partisans of the New World origin derive tocayo from Nahuatl tocaitl ‘name, renown’ or the verb tocayona ‘to name someone, to call by name,’ or the like. The chief Old World alternative derives tocayo from a phrase customarily spoken by the bride in a Roman wedding, Ubi tu Caius, ibi ego Caia ‘Where you [are known as] Caius, there I [will be known as] Caia,’ the groom’s response being Ubi tu Caia, ibi ego Caius ‘Where you [are known as] Caia, there I [will be known as] Caius,’ Caia being the feminine form of Caius, one of the most common of Roman first names (praenomina).

So, what’s the evidence? The case for deriving tocayo from Ubi tu Caius/Caia seems to be that there’s no compelling reason not to prefer it over the (arguably problematic) New world hypothesis (see, e.g., Joan Corominas’s Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico), that Roman legal terminology has sometimes been preserved archaically in Modern Romance (see, e.g., Guido Gómez de Silva’s Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua española), and teasing a single word out of a foreign phrase, while rare, is not unknown (cf. Spanish brindis ‘[a] toast’ from German [Ich] bring’ dir ’s—‘I bring this to you’or French vasistas ‘transom’ from German Was ist das?—’What’s that?’).

 In addition, the gloss for tocayo offered in Capt. John Stevens’s A New Spanish and English Dictionary (published in London in 1706), the earliest occurrence of the word in print that has so far come to light, may be entered as Exhibit A. Stevens glosses tocayo simply as “namesake” with no further comment as to its language of origin, while his entry for the word cacao (“The Nut whereof chocolate is made…”) concludes with the information that  “The greatest plenty is in the Province of Guatimala. The Name is Indian. F. Fos. Acos. Nat. Hist. Ind. Lib. 4. Chap. 22. Pag. 250.” Ergo, by not saying that tocayo is “Indian,” we may assume that its origin is Old World.

Arguing for the defense of the New World hypothesis, the forensic lexicographer notes that the derivation of tocayo from Ubi tu Caius/Caia is, on the face of it, rather a stretch both phonologically and semantically, and the evidence from Stevens is shaky at best: Stevens’s entries for such New World terms as tlixochitl (“An herb in New Spain…The Spaniards call them Baynillas from their shape, because they are like small sheathes or scabbards…”), chocolate (“Chocolat; well known, and therefore needs no more to be said.”), and tomates (“A sort of red fruit growing in Spain, not known in England…”) are not explicitly identified as “Indian” words. Indeed, in his introduction, which identifies the various sources from which Spanish has derived its vocabulary—Latin, Arabic, Gothic, French, Greek—Stevens makes no mention whatever of any New World languages, and one suspects that the cacao reference was borrowed from the cited source.

But perhaps the best evidence for the New World hypothesis is not that the opposition’s case is weak but (a) the Nahuatl derivation is plausible on both phonological and semantic grounds and (b) Brazilian Portuguese has two terms synonymous with Spanish tocayo: tocaio (borrowed from Spanish) and the more widely used xará, whose derivation from Tupí xe’rer (‘my name’) is completely noncontroversial, suggesting that the whole notion of the general same-name-as relationship was one whose monolexical expression first appeared in the New World, a hypothesis bolstered by the lack of such a term (other than some variant of homonym) in the other Romance languages.

You be the judge.