Vol. 70 No. 1 (2022): Names: A Journal of Onomastics

Wherefore Art Thou Juanita? The Life of a Spanish Name in Newfoundland

Ainsley Hawthorn
Independent Researcher

Published 2022-03-09


  • anthroponymy,
  • given names,
  • Newfoundland,
  • Labrador,
  • Spanish,
  • English,
  • intercultural studies
  • ...More


The name Juanita should have been an unlikely candidate for popularity in a place like Newfoundland, where only 0.1% of the population of half a million speaks Spanish as a mother tongue and 0.4% identifies as having Spanish, Latin American, Central American, or South American ethnic origins. Nonetheless, the name is a well-established member of the Newfoundland onomasticon. Drawing on archival research, census data, and other primary source materials, this study seeks to uncover how Juanita was introduced to Newfoundland and what determinants precipitated its widespread acceptance. The author proposes that the early adopters of Juanita were inspired by a nineteenth-century ballad of the same name and that Juanita was ripe for incorporation into the Newfoundland onomasticon because of its phonetic resemblance to girls’ names in already common use in the region, including Anita, Rita, and Zita. As a result, Juanita had the benefit of novelty, an increasingly important factor in name choice in English-speaking countries in the latter half of the nineteenth century, balanced by a familiarity, leading to what Berger and colleagues (2012) call “optimal innovation.”


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