Chilean place names

Lo Barnechea, Lo Curro, Lo Espejo, Las Condes, Manquehue, Llanquihue… Ever wonder about the names of places in Chile? A Cachando Chile reader asked… so I did my homework.

I’m an inquisitive kind of person, so when a reader wrote to say that as a non-Chilean native Spanish speaker she was curious about some common place names in Chile, I was ready to take up the challenge. She commented that although the pronoun “Lo” as in Lo Barnechea, Lo Curro, Lo Espejo, and Lo Ovalle is common here, she had never seen it used in any other Spanish-speaking country, where the article La or El is the norm.

She got me thinking, so I turned to my friend and favorite grammarian-slash-linguistics expert, who came through in record time (Thank you Paula!). As the reader rightly suspected, “lo” in this case infers ownership and is short for “lo de los Barnechea.” Long story short, the Barnechea’s once owned some land that became known as Lo Barnechea–as in, “I’m going over to the Barnechea’s place.” The same goes for the Curro’s, the Espejo’s, the Ovalle’s, and a number of other former hacienda-owning families. Case solved.

And what about the municipality of Las Condes, she also wondered?  I’ve had my doubts about that one myself. A conde is a count, so shouldn’t it be LOS Condes? Should we be wondering about just what kinds of counts these guys were? No, as it turns out. The story goes that a couple of Peruvian sister-countesses owned the land, formerly known as the La Sierra Bella Fundo (a fundo is a hacienda, or estate, in Chilean Spanish), until it became a municipality in 1901. So now the question is why wasn’t it  named “Las Condesas”? The mystery continues… (Anyone know the answer?)

Chile also has many places of all types that end in “hue” (pronounced “way”) or “gua” (pronounced “gwah”), which mean “place” in Mapudungún, the language of the indigenous Mapuches. For example, the mountain that reigns over the Santiago horizon, Manquehue (mahn-KAY-way), means place of the condors, although today it should probably be renamed “place of the hang-gliders” because they’re a far more common sight these days than any condors!

Lake Llanquihe (yahn-KEE-way) in the south means the lost lake or the lost place. And no, by the way, you’re not the first person to catch the similarity to “Yankee way,” there’s even a tourist lodge by that name in the area!

Colchagua (kohl-CHAH-gwah), now famous as a major wine region,  means nesting place of the huala (Podiceps major), the sacred bird of the Mapuches (other sources say it means grassy place). Rancagua, just south of Santiago, means place where reeds grow; Antilhue, sunny place; Pencahue, place where pumpkins grow; Puyehue, water with pueyes (the fresh-water fish Galaxias maculatus); Curahue, rocky place; Carahue, populated place, and so on.

So, thanks for the question!

12 responses to “Chilean place names

  1. Gracias, “Gringa”, por las bonitas explicaciones.
    I always wondered about these names and now it all makes sense.

    Congratulations on this site and keep up the good blog!

  2. Hi “gringa”… My english is basic, but I will try to explain something. The word and concept of “Lo” is used too in Argentina. For example, the people of Buenos Aires say “Voy a LO de la María” when they want to say “I go to the Maria’s house”. In fact, “Lo” is a abstract concept always associated with the next word, generally for belonging, property, toponymy or denomination. I admit it’s strange, but works.

  3. La Gringa/Margaret

    Hola Criss-
    Gracias por tus comentarios! Lo que nuestra lectora encontró curioso no era el uso de “lo” en sí, sino que aparezca en nombres oficiales de pueblos (como Lo Abarca, otro que se me olvidó anteriormente). Comentó que no lo había visto en ningún otra parte… Por mi lado, no puedo decir porque aprendí castellano aquí en Chile y no tengo mucho otros puntos de referencia. ¿Se usa para pueblos argentinos también?

  4. My dear:
    I used to live in Santiago, now at the Independent Republic of Iquique (northern Chile).
    What I understood about “Lo” Espejo, Lo Contador” etc. is a little different.
    Okey, names stems from family owning the estate, but the place became known as “Lo” was for “Los” Barnechea, “Los” Prado, etc.
    As you have already notice we do not pronounce the letter “s” at the end nor in the middle of a word.
    Secondly Las Condes origin: The alluded sisters had Conde as last name. From there “Las Condes”.
    Enjoy.

  5. Interesting entry! Thanks for that!

  6. I never ever thought about that Las Condes thing. Maybe they were very, very forward thinking women? Anyways, I didn’t know the rest of that!

  7. Thanks!

  8. La Gringa/Margaret

    hmmm- women ahead of their time! I’d like to think so!

  9. I met a woman in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, USA on May 26, 2009. She is Chilean and works in a hotel in Bloomsburg. She and I were talking about how much I love Chile and that my husband and I had hosted 3 AFS exchange students from Chile. One of them lived in Las Condes. This woman shared with me that her family name was Conde and that her Grandfather had a sister who owned the land where Las Condes is that this Great Aunt gave her land to the Monks.
    I am hunting information to verify this.

  10. Very interesting- could be, and if the last name were “Conde,” that would explain why it’s Las Condes instead of Las Condesas… but the giving it to a monk part sounds odd. Perhaps she did and then the monks sold it to the municipality… Does anyone else know? I’ll see what else I can find out!

  11. Las Condes/as

    ¡Misterio resuelto!

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