Kings and Queens of Texcoco

About a year ago, I did threads analyzing the names of Mexica kings and queens. I’ve been asked to do the same for the Tetzcohca royalty (the rulers of Tetzcohco or “Texcoco,” one of the three seats of power in the Triple Alliance or “Aztec Empire”).

Okay, let’s do this!

Tetzcohco (Texcoco) was founded by a Chichimec chieftain, Quinatzin Tlāltecatzin. His first name does not appear to be Nahuatl (though it bears the reverential suffix). If we look at his name glyph, however, we see that it apparently meant “growling deer.”

You’ll note, along with the deer head icon, the king is dressed in animal skins and has wild, unkempt hair (because he was a Chichimec, a barbarian of the northern deserts).

His second name is odd. It’s the reverential form of “Tlāltecatl,” literally “inhabitant of the earth,” from “tlālli” (earth) and the suffix “-tecatl” (person from X).

So “Growling Deer the Earthling,” basically. Heh.

Quinatzin married an Ahcolhua princess from Huexotla, Cuāuhcihuātzin (“revered eagle woman,” also a title of the goddess Quilaztli).

Their son was Techotlalatzin.

Techotlala (without the reverential suffix) is a strange name, clearly not Nahuatl. In his name glyph, the rock or “tētl” appears (for the sound “te-”) & then a bird (perhaps a species that sounded like “chotla” or a reference to verbs beginning with “cho-” that meant “to peck”).

Techotlalatzin won the throne after his four older brothers all rebelled against their father, siding with their enemies. Once crowned, he was the first king of Tetzcohco to adopt Nahuatl as the state language.

Like his father, he welcomed Nahua immigrants, especially Toltecs.

In the Codex Xolotl, we see him conferring (sometime during his reign, which lasted from 1377 to 1409) with the leaders of the Tepanēcah, Huitznāhuaqueh, Cōlhuahqueh and (drum roll) Mexihtin.

You know, the people that will one day call themselves Mexica?

Yup. They were Mexihtin first.

Techotlalatzin married Tozquēntzin, an Acolhua princess from the lakeside city-state of Coatlichan.

Her name is the reverential form of “tozquēmitl” meaning “robe of yellow-crowned parrot [feathers],” from “toztli” (scientific name Amazona ochrocephala) and “quēmitl” (robe).

In 1380, the sovereigns had a son: Īxtlīlxōchitl, also known as Ōme Tōchtli, 2 Rabbit, his birth sign (or, less likely, his priestly title … ōmetōchtli being a priest of the 400 drunken gods).

Īxtlīlxōchitl *appears* to mean “vanilla face,” from “tlīlxōchitl” (flower) & “īxtli” (face). Some sources list “īxtlīlxōchitl” as a flowery vine used in treating the eyes. And you can also interpret the name as “īxtlīl” (blackened [by soot] on the surface) “xōchitl” flower.

That seems the most bad-ass and appropriate.

You see, Īxtlīlxōchitl was about to piss off an empire.

Before we get there, let’s look at his name glyph.

Here are three examples, all with the eye/face symbol (standing for the “ix-” sound) and a flower (xōchitl), blackened (the tlīl- sound) in two of the cases.

Notice the “2 Rabbit” glyph as well.

As crown prince, Ixtlīlxōchitl was quite a catch. The king of Tenochtitlan, Huitzilihhuitl, offered the hand of his sister Mātlālcihuātzin in marriage.

The bad thing was that Huitzilihhuitl’s father-in-law — Emperor Tezozomoc, lord of the Tepanecah, offered his daughter.

Ixtlīlxōchitl choose Mātlālcihuātzin. Emperor Tezozomoc was not amused.

Mātlālcihuātzin means “dark-green woman,” by the way, from “mātlālin” (a bluish-green, like the color of the sea) and “cihuātl” (woman).

Ixtlīlxōchitl became king in 1409.

He wouldn’t last long.

In 1414, Ixtlīlxōchitl started calling himself Chīchīmēcatēuctli (“Lord of the Chichimecs”). Emperor. He tried to get his wife’s people, the Mexica, to ally with him and defeat the Tepanecs. But King Huitzilihhuitl continued his city’s vassalage to his father-in-law’s empire.

Years of conflict ensued.

Now, on April 28, 1402, the king and queen of Tetzcohco had a son.

He was known as Ahcolmiztli: Puma (“miztli”) of the Ahcolhuah (the people under Tetzcohco’s protection and rule).

But history remembers him by his other name.


When Nezahualcoyōtl was 15, Tetzcohco found itself under siege by the Tepanec empire. The city held for as long as it could, then fell. Many died, including most of the royal family.

But the king escaped with his son the crown prince and a group of soldiers.

They fled east.

In the foothills, the Tepanec army caught up with them. The king ordered Nezahualcoyōtl to climb a tree and remain hidden, no matter what.

He was the last of their lineage. He HAD to survive, his father insisted.

From his hiding place, the teen watched his father die.

Emperor Tezozomoc knew the boy was alive. For four years, a bounty on his head, an army on his tail, Nezahualcoyōtl managed to stay alive, hiding, pretending to be a commoner, becoming a soldier in the Chalcan army, amassing allies, planning, escaping captivity.

He was a complete bad-ass.

In 1422, his aunts & uncles — the ruling aristocratic family tof Tenochtitlan — convinced Tezozomoc to allow Nezahualcoyōtl to find sanctuary with them.

Almost 20, the prince joined his Mexica relatives: King Chimalpopoca, plus his other uncles Tlācaellel & Motēuczōma I.

Six years later, Tlācaellel, Motēuczōma and Nezahualcoyōtl went to war with the greatest empire in Central Mexico.

They won.

Nezahualcoyōtl took back Tetzcohco. With Mēxihco (the isle containing Tenōchtitlan) and Tlacōpan (a rebel Tepanec city) he founded the Triple Alliance.

Tetzcohco became a cultural center, height of Toltec arts in a post-Toltec world. King Nezahualcoyōtl was renown for his statecraft, his engineering (the dike separating briny & fresh water in Lake Texcoco), & his poetry.

His face & one of his poems are on the 100 peso bill.

“Okay, but what does his NAME MEAN, David?”

You’ve probably heard “hungry coyote” or “fasting coyote.”

Neither is quite right, however.

It should be “coyote with nezahualli.”

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s a ‘nezahualli’?”

The word means two things: a fast or a fasting collar. The latter was made out of bands of paper twisted together. It showed folks that you were fasting & shouldn’t be offered food.

Take a look at these glyphs for “nezahualli” & “Nezahualcoyōtl”

I’ve sort of explained how icons can be used for phonological rather than semantic value in making a name glyph. So the king’s name COULD mean “fast[ing] coyote.”

But it more clearly seems to mean “coyote with a fasting collar.”

Fasting didn’t mean abstinence, though. In fact, Nezahualcoyōtl had a reputation as a “ladies man.” Many wives, lots of concubines.

His nickname was Yohyōntzin. I’ve seen erroneous interpretations, trying to make this sobriquet something sober and spiritual.

Let me force you to face the truth.

The verb “yohyōma” (past “yohyōn”) meant “to thrust [the hips] as if in sex.”

The verb “yohyōmmiqui” meant “to die while climaxing” or “to lose an erection after climax.”

So, though I’d rather this weren’t the case, Nezahualcoyōtl’s nickname seems to be a reference to his sexual prowess.

History doesn’t record any of his wives’ names, btw. But one of them bore him a son in 1464, when he was 62 (he had many, many kids), named Nezahualpilli.

You’ll recognize “fasting collar.” The “pilli” part means “child” or “nobleman” (much like “infante” or “enfant” in Europe).

His glyph is therefore pretty predictable. A child with a fasting collar.

Good old “Prince with Fasting Collar” followed in papa’s footsteps. Poetry, arts, engineering. He abolished the death penalty, pushed back against Mexica cultural encroachment.

Nezahualpilli loved the ladies. Had so, so many wives and concubines, who gave him 144 children.

One of his concubines was sister of Mexica king Motēuczōma II. Her name *may* have been Chālchiuhnenetzin, meaning “emerald figurine” from “chālchihuitl” (emerald) and “nenetl” (doll, statue).

In 1483, she bore Nezahualpilli a son, Cacamatzin.

Tetzcohco’s last true king.

In 1515, Cacamatzin’s uncle Motēuczōma pressured the nobility of Tetzcohco to elect his nephew king. His idea was to weaken the Ahcolhuah within the Triple Alliance.

But the ascension of this new king caused a civil war among the Ahcolhuah, because Cacamatzin’s brother Īxtlīlxōchitl II wanted the throne, also. The kingdom was divided, and Īxtlīlxōchitl II got the crappy half.

Ironically, Cacamatzin is the honorific of “cacamatl” or “double ear of corn.” The word is also used as an affection metaphor for a young boy who is like his father: “A chip off the old block.”

Was Cacamatzin like his father and grandfather? He wrote a poem about the Spanish conquest in which he embraced violence to stave off the invasion.

Against Motēuczōma’s wishes, he decided to fight the Spaniards.

The Mexica king told Cortés.

Cacamatzin called Motēuczōma a coward. He gathered many allies in his palace to discuss rebellion.

Motēuczōma had them all arrested.

Pedro de Alvarado tortured Cacamatzin, wanting gold.

When the Mexica finally fought back, the Spaniards executed the king of Tetzcohco.

Right after Cacamatzin’s arrest, Cortés had installed his half-brother Cōānacochtzin as king of Tetzcohco, figuring him for an easily manipulated puppet.

He was dead wrong.

Cōānacochtzin fought back during the Noche Triste, eventually allying himself with Cuāuhtemōc. On August 13, 1521, he was taken prisoner as the Aztec Empire fell.

Cōānacochtzin is the honorific of “cōānacochtli” — “snake[-shaped] ear plug” from “cōātl” (snake) and “nacochtli” (earring or ear plug).

Four years later, he and Cuāuhtemōc were hanged, alongside the king of Tlacopan, on suspicion they were fomenting rebellion.

Cortés replaced Cōānacochtzin with ANOTHER half-brother, Tecocoltzin … whose name literally means “hater of people” from the verb “cocōlia” (to hate) and the indefinite object prefix “te-” (people).

He lasted one month before dying.

Remember the civil war over the throne of Tetzcohco? Well, just imagine the joy a certain disaffected brother felt when Cortés comes around and asks him to be king of Tetzcohco. Īxtlīlxōchitl II is so excited that he becomes a Catholic, taking the name Hernando Īxtlīlxōchitl Cortés.

Then he threatens the people of Tetzcohco with death if they don’t convert.

There the royal family of Tetzcohco dies.

But not the famiy’s impact. The great grandson of Hernando Īxtlīlxōchitl Cortés is the important chronicler Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl.

From his Relación and Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, we have learned many things that were almost lost.

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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