Menjívar etymology

Menjívar is an unusual name, the etymological origin of which seems to have been lost over time. The surname appears in Spain and in El Salvador and elsewhere. It is of Basque origin, with a language in eight dialects situated in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain and not related to any other language in the world but having a profound influence on Castilian Spanish and early affecting the history of the Western Hemisphere in a quiet Basque manner, especially in the fishing industry.

Here are Menjívar’s variants with the first being primary in spelling: Mengibar, Menjibar, Mengivar, Menxibar, and Menxivar.

According to Spanish spelling rules they all have one pronunciation: /men-hhe-βAR/, with my “hh” for IPA [x], a voiceless velar fricative (not the expected Basque “x” = /sh/) and IPA [β], a voiced bilabial fricative, a sound not in English; however, in Basque there are two main types of tonal accentuation in the western, primary area (Biscayan and Guipúzcoan): (1) normal, flat, or low-low-slight high but perceived as stressed on the second syllable (thus as if /men-HHE-βar/) and (2) anormal but perceived merely as slightly stressing the first syllable (thus /MEN-hhe-βar/. In longer phrasings initial stress usually comes to the fore.

The transparent second element, Basque ibar, means ‘valley, lowlands; riverbank’; it does not mean ‘river’, which is ibai. The first element is opaque and distorted. Only one Internet source provided a meaning, but it is faulty: “Fragile Meadow. Fragile River.” as if the first element were from the adjective mengel ‘weak, inconsistent, feeble, frail; fleeting, ephemeral’ or less likely the verb mengoatu ‘to oblige, force; to decrease’. The problem is the spelling. On first seeing the name one might easily recall the first element as an expected mendi ‘mountain’ + ibar ‘riverbank, valley’. Indeed, Jaime de Querexeta 1972 (in Vol. III) uses the basic form Mengibar:

1. Mengibar Así lo trae escrito Cadenas y Vicent, pero, sin duda, es errata de Mendibar o de Mendilar.

2. De ser Mendibar, vega del monte (de mendi, monte, e ibar, vega). De ser Mendilar, verlo [Mendilar 1. En Argentina. 2. Zarzal del monte (de mendi, monte, y lahar, lar: zarza, pero también puede ser pastizal, dehesa)].

4. En plata, un avellano de sinople, terrasado de lo mismo, y, a sus pies, dos lebreles, de su color natural, atados al tronco, con una traílla de azur, y encontrados. Otros: Cuartelado: 1.º y 4.º, en gules, una panela de oro; 2.º y 3.º, en plata, un léon rampante, de púrpura.


1. Mengibar Thus did Cadenas y Vicent write it, but no doubt it is an error for Mendibar or for Mendilar.

2. When it is Mendibar, open plain by a mountain (from mendi, mountain, and ibar, open plain, meadow, a tract of level, fruitful ground, field by a riverbank). When it is Mendilar, see as follows [Mendilar 1. In Argentina. 2. mountain briery (from mendi, mountain, and lahar, lar: brambles, blackberrybushes; thorns, but it can also be pasture, pastureland, pasture ground, a common)].

4. [Coat-of-arms:] Argent, a hazel sinople, terraced with the same, and at its feet, two greyhounds, their color proper, attached to the trunk, by a leash azure, and confronté. Others: Party per cross: 1.º and 4.º, gules, a panela or; 2.º and 3.º, argent, a lion rampant, purpure.

Or in understandable English:

4. A silver field, a green hazelnut tree, terraced with the same [color], and at its feet, two greyhounds, with their natural color, attached to the trunk, by a blue leash, and facing each other. Others: Divided into four parts like a cross: 1.º and 4.º, red, a gold [or any shade of yellow] charge/panela [heart-shaped shield or lotus leaf]; 2.º and 3.º, a silver field, a purple [or dark red] lion rampant [rearing up with forepaws raised].


Jaime de Querexeta [Kerexeta]: Diccionario onomástico y heráldico vasco (in 4 volumes), Bilbao, 1972, Biblioteca de La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca. (KEY: 1 = specified as to definition or location in Spain and Latin America; 2 = etymology; 3 = specified further on persons or location of lineage over time; 4 = description of coat-of-arms in heraldic terms [and in plain English]; dialects: A[laba] = Álava; B[izkaia] = Vizcaya; G[ipuzkoa] = Guipúzcoa; Lapurdi = Labourd; Nafarroa, Nafarra Beherea eta Garaia = Navarra Baja y Alta; Zubero = Soule)

Compiled and translated by Carl Masthay, 838 Larkin Ave., St. Louis, Missouri 63141; 22 June 2013.