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In Spanish Alta California the church held notable power. Immigrants who wanted to get ahead in society would undergo Catholic baptism, helping them qualify to marry or acquire land.

In 1818 a recently baptized foreigner in his early twenties served as godparent. The baptismal register is online but difficult to search in the Early California Population Project Database. The officiating priest recorded that the godfather was at diez meses de haver abradado de la religion Catolica (abradado could be a transcription error for abracado or abrazado, synonyms, or abrasado).

The priest also inserted the adjectival or titular term Mocho in front of the godfather's name. According to the modern dictionaries I have at hand, this word suggests someone missing a limb -- though I don't think the guy was missing any body parts -- or someone acting falsely pious. Coming from a priest, this sounds like being an insult, and dare I say un-Christian. It could also be a term of art with other connotations.

What was the priest indicating to future readers of the baptismal register by marking the young man as Mocho?

APPENDIX. The database record in question:

Mission: San Carlos de Borromeo

Number: 03076

Baptism Date: 7 Apr 1818

Birthdate: 6 Apr 1818 "nacida del dia anterior como a las dos de la tarde"

Location: Capilla del Real Presidio

Ethnicity: Razon

Type: +

Sex: F

Name: Pliego, Ysidora

Father: Pliego, Narciso from Jalapa en la nueva España, maestro de tela[...]os en la mision de la Soledad

Mother: Briones, Agueda from Monterrey citado

Officiant: Amorós, Juan

Godparents: Buelna, Maria Hilaria; Mocho Bol[...], Jose

and then with regard to the latter:

Godparent name: Mocho Bol[...], Jose

Godparent type: Padrino

Godparent origin: Ruso, nacion de

Godparent comments: "diez meses de haver abradado de la religion Catolica"

The Russian was Jose Antonio Bolcof.

  • 1
    I found in Google books another case, where they say Hijo de Juan Caballero y María Sánchez, vecinos de Castro-mocho. It could be that on those years missing a limb was relevant enough to be noted there? Note also that the diccionario de americanismos registers many meanings for this word. I find specially relevant the one from Mexico: Referido a persona, que exagera en los actos de devoción religiosa. fest. That is, someone who exaggerates in acts of religious devotion. – fedorqui Jan 12 '17 at 7:50
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    If you have the image you could upload the relevant part so we could see it, maybe we notice something else that could give us a clue. You can see an example in my question here. – Charlie Jan 12 '17 at 8:48
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    Maybe it is related to his origin: see Mocho' language in Wikipedia. Mocho’ or Mototzintleco is a language of the western branch of Mayan languages spoken in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Nowadays it is a moribund language with barely 30 speakers, but maybe in the beginning of the XIX century there were more speakers. – Charlie Jan 12 '17 at 8:59
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    The provided link takes you to a web page that needs a login (username/password) that we do not know. Maybe you do not have the image, but surely you have access to the text. Could you copy and paste the complete text? Besides, you could try searching in FamilySearch for that register, if you find it provide the link and we will be able to help you better. FamilySearch is also a service provided by the mormons. – Charlie Jan 13 '17 at 7:58
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    Hi folks, it took some organizing, but I pasted above the contents of all the non-trivial fields in the database records. Thanks for your patience. – Aaron Brick Jan 16 '17 at 18:43
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I'll add my $0.02 MXN

although there is no documentation to refer to, being a very colloquial expression I can confirm at least 4 current usages of the word Mocho in Mexico, particularly in Baja California (not so far from your find)

  1. Being overly religious or exaggerating on the practice of the catholic faith, (widely used nowdays)

  2. Mocho, (lisado) as in missing a limb. it is used to describe those who have lost most of an extremity, such as an arm or a leg, as opposed to 'cojo' or 'manco' when missing a hand or a leg from the knee down, It is interesting to note how the word comes to be used to describe amputees, herein lies the key:

  3. 'Mocho', (incompleto) missing a part, as the subject and action of the verb:

  4. 'Mochar' (cortar). You may not be "Mocho" yourself, but you may have "El dedo Mocho" (missing a finger). Why are you missing a finger? *"Me lo **moché por accidente trabajando"*** Applies not only to bodily harm, but to objects and things that have been cut and are thus incomplete:

No vimos lo mejor de la pelicula, le mocharon el final!

We didnt see the best part of the movie, it was cut at the end!

El ingeniero encargo que mocharamos esos arboles a la mitad, para que no hagan contacto con el cable de alta tension The engineer ordered us to cut tose trees in half, to avoid them making contact wth the high tension cabling

Another usage of the verb form of Mocho is 'to share' or to have shared something valuable, an allegory of cutting oneself and giving away something dear and close to you (such as an arm and a leg ...bingo!) and to give it away without asking for compensation in return, for the good of others. If you sell your kidney, it doesent apply. If you however donate your kidney, "Te mochaste con un riňón"

Also this is not limited to bodily parts. all too often, people will ask for freebies "Oiga, Mochese con los refrescos" "Give us some soft drinks" if you agree, they wont pay for the soft drinks, because "Te mochaste"

An abstract example, that happened to me recently "Profe, Móchese con un punto; para irnos de vacaciones sin preocuparnos por el examen" (I teach calculus at a local highschool, and my pupils were under the impression that i would just give them a free point on their terms, if they asked so they could enjoy their spring break. Needless to say, NO Me moché!

All of these, in current use; even amongst well educated groups.


My theory: It could be that this person shared his wealth as was the custom for godfathers at the time, they literally threw money in the air (bolo) so kids would all come running and have fun trying to gather the most coins from el padrino.

Or if he was not missing a limb, perhaps he was missing a finger. In the historical context, a godfather had actual responsibilities towards his "ahijados" and had to vouch for them in addition to their parents in certain circumstances, so being a foreigner recently eligible to be a godfather, perhaps the priest made the annotations so as to identify him in a time where taking a photograph was either impossible or a very expensive and painstaking affair.

  • The concept of mocharse you describe is fascinating, thanks for the extended discussion. The NTC Chicano Spanish dictionary defines it as "mooching off of" someone (a word with a Germanic root). I'd be surprised if the word were in use at that place and time, but who knows. Yes, he could have been missing an arm or finger. – Aaron Brick Aug 31 '17 at 17:34
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The first possibility in hlecuanda's answer does seem the most likely. No source of which I am aware says that the subject was missing an appendage. According to Maynard Geiger, Amorós had been a Franciscan priest longer than Bolcoff had been alive. Apparently he was triggered, adding the explanatory detail that Bolcoff's conversion had taken place only ten months before. I conclude that Amorós doubted Bolcoff's sincerity as a Catholic.

  • Thanks for posting an update. I'm not sure if there's official guidance about this, but I've been encouraged on other SE sites to post my update within the question itself, at the bottom. – aparente001 Jul 15 '18 at 5:58

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