In "Tortilla Flat," Steinbeck writes of towns he was familiar with, including Monterey, Carmel, Salinas, and Watsonville. These are translated in the Spanish edition as Monterrey (two "R"s), Carmel, Salinas, and Watsonville.

Why is "Monterey" changed? There is a Monterry, Mexico, and this seems like it could be confusing (which "Monterrey" do you mean?).

Is it for historical reasons? My guess is that when Monterey (California) was the capital of Alta California (when controlled by Mexico), it was spelled "Monterrey."

I would expect consistency in the translation of place names. If "Monterey" is translated as "Monterrey," why isn't "Watsonville" translated as "Aldea de Watson"? Ironically, the title of the book comes across unaltered: "Tortilla Flat" is entitled "Tortilla Flat" in the Spanish edition, too (not "Tortilla Plano").

To me, translating "Monterey" as "Monterrey" almost seems tantamount to a Dutchman translating "New York" as "New Amsterdam."

And this is not a patriotic/jingoistic reaction on my part; I agree with U.S. Grant that the war with Mexico (so conveniently occurring on the heels of the discovery of gold in California) was shameful.

  • 2
    Why is Sevilla translated as Seville in English, but Puerto Rico is not Rich Port? Exonyms happen in all languages.
    – Gorpik
    Jun 11, 2015 at 8:40

2 Answers 2


It depends on a lot of factors, mainly dictated by history.

Consider the name of states: Florida is still often translated as La Florida (from tierra florida, IIRC). But Montana, which comes from Spanish Montaña is both spelled and pronounced Montana in modern Spanish.

Most cities that end in -b(o)urg(h) will be -burgo, and most cities with European counterparts that have specialized names will retain them, and sometimes not (most of my Spanish speaking friends refer to Athens, Georgia, as if it were spelled acens, yorya, but refer to the Greek city as Atenas and the country Georgia as if spelled jeorjia (following normal rules).

Other times there are multiple terms in use and the translator must consider his audience, trends in usage, etc, to decide. Albuquerque, New Mexico, could be translated as any of the following with justification:

  • Albuquerque, Nuevoxico
  • Albuquerque, Nuevojico
  • Albuquerque, Nuevaxico
  • Albuquerque, Nuevajico
  • Alburquerque, Nuevoxico
  • Alburquerque, Nuevojico
  • Alburquerque, Nuevaxico
  • Alburquerque, Nuevajico

For native Spanish speakers from old New Mexican families, the -r- is normal in pronunciation (and also matches the original city in Extremadura). For English speakers and some younger or immigrant (like from Mexico) speakers, the name won't have the -r-.

For historical books, the -a is needed because it modifies the elided provincia (that is, it was the new province [of Mexico]). Because it was so often elided, speakers reanalyzed it as modifying the toponym directly and Mexico is considered masculine for that, hence modern -o.

The x/j comes down to preference, both are considered correct, though the DPD strongly prefers x. The x better reminds the etymology (and former sound, it was said like meshico) and the j matches modern orthography better.

So the translator gets 8 choices in this case. With Monterrey, they only have two, but they will undoubtedly apply some of the same reasoning to decide which one is best given what their audience expects and what the original author may have intended given context.


"To me, translating 'Monterey' as 'Monterrey' almost seems tantamount to a Dutchman translating 'New York' as 'New Amsterdam.'"

But "New York" will be perfectly translated as "Nueva York" when translating the text to Spanish. "London" would have been translated as "Londres" and the list goes on. Thus, the Spanish version of the novel will use the Spanish name for the city of Monterey, which may "Monterrey" with two r's (even if there is already a "Monterry". Very similar names for places, or even the same name for different places is not uncommon).

So, I don't think that "Monterrey" is forced for historical reasons. I think that "Monterrey" is the Spanish name for the same city or the translator is unaware of it if "Monterey" is actually the oficial name of the city in Spanish.

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