You say “Manchaca”, I say “Menchaca”

Let’s start a Facebook page to settle it once and for all.

Jose Antonio Menchaca

Austin’s long-held knack for mangling street pronunciations is so rich it could be its own game show category.

As in: “This well-known University of Texas-area street’s name suggests a circular motion.”

“What is GWAD-a-loop, Alex?”

But it is the misspelling, not the mispronunciation, of a street in South Austin that “always stuck in my craw,” said Bob Perkins, a retired Travis County district judge and amateur historian who is on a campaign to correct the spelling of the street named for a Tejano hero of the Texas Revolution. The right spelling is Menchaca, not Manchaca, according to Perkins and Texas historians.

Perkins recently created a “Justice for Menchaca” page on Facebook and is working to collect 1,000 signatures on petitions before asking the City Council to approve replacing Manchaca Road street signs with ones bearing the correct spelling. Perkins said last week that about 300 people had signed hard copies of the petition; he hoped to get the rest of the endorsements online. City Council Member Mike Martinez supports his campaign, Perkins said. Martinez did not return a call last week seeking comment.

Manchaca Road is named for José Antonio Menchaca of San Antonio, who according to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas served during the revolution under the command of Juan Seguín and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. Later, Menchaca led a cavalry of Tejanos, or Texans of Mexican descent, who patrolled an area north and west of San Antonio to guard against Indian attacks, often using elevated land near springs southwest of Austin as a camping base of operations. According to the Handbook of Texas, Manchaca Springs is named after Menchaca, and the southern Travis County community of Manchaca is named for the springs.

Menchaca, pronounced Men-CHAH-kah, died in 1879. Somehow, however — no one is exactly sure why — even when Menchaca was alive, early Anglo settlers dropped the “e” from his surname and inserted an “a.”

Here’s the Facebook page. Three things in addition to that:

1. Bob Perkins was the original judge in the Tom DeLay case. The current judge in the case of his associates is the fellow who succeeded him on the bench in Travis County.

2. Houston has plenty of streets with bizarre pronunciations as well. “Kuykendall” is pronounced “Kirkendall”. “San Felipe” is pronounced “San Phillippy”. I just live here, don’t ask me why.

3. Though I don’t play much these days, I was for many years a tournament bridge player. We have many colorful characters in the bridge scene in Texas. Two of them formed a strong partnership that lasted for a long time, George Dawkins and George Pisk. Dawkins was a physician with a quiet and dignified manner – on the surface, anyway; they were both cutups – who had somehow acquired the nickname Doctor Doom. I don’t know what Pisk did for a living, but he was a gregarious type with a deep storehouse of mostly bawdy anecdotes to tell. He was also from Manchaca, so I thought of the two of them collectively as Doctor Doom and The Man Of Manchaca. It fit them somehow. They were both accomplished players and tough opponents, but it was always fun sitting down at the table opposite them. Sadly, Dawkins was killed in an auto accident in Italy a decade or so ago, along with his wife and another person. Pisk passed away a few months back, according to an obituary I saw in the local bridge newsletter. The world is a less interesting place without the two of them. This doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, but I can’t think of Manchaca, or Menchaca, without thinking of the Georges Pisk and Dawkins. So now you know.

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7 Responses to You say “Manchaca”, I say “Menchaca”

  1. Temple Houston says:

    When I was a student at UT some 2000 years ago, I was told that Manchaca was Czech and not Spanish. That was supposed to explain the pronunciation. There are lots of place names in Texas that have developed their own unique pronunciations: Bexar (bayer), Brazos (brazzus), Mexia (mehayah) [but old timers in of Mexia say “mahair”], Carancahua (karankaway), Refugio (refurio), Palacios (palashus) (that second a is a short a, not a long a), Cuero (kwuro), Anahuac (an-you-ack), Manor (maynor), Lavaca (lavacka), Navidad (navadad) [all short a’s]. These are not incorrect pronunciations: they are valid for the places they name. Now all you have to do is tell me how to say Chillicothe and Goldthwaite.

  2. Rosi says:

    Please Don’t Ask Why TEXANS Enjoy Mispronouncing Spanish Names? We All Really Do Know Why!!
    By the way, my Maternal Grandmother’s surname was MENchaca! There is No Logical Reason to keep
    misspelling this Spanish (Basque) Surname. I ask myself daily: Why Do Anglo-Americans Bend Over Backwards to Pronounce FRENCH names, titles, silly items like salad dressing CORRECTLY?
    Yet when it comes to SPANISH names, they Deliberately Mispronounce the names. MENchaca is not alone. What about Exxon-Valdez, Alvarado, Texas. The List Goes On. There can only be one reason: Prejudice toward anything and all things Spanish, Mexican, Hispanic, Latino.
    Anglos “invited” into Texas prior to “statehood” developed an anti-Spanish, Mexican prejudice that continues today. I know that resentment, disrespect and maybe even hatred still exists in Texas today toward those of any Hispanic Origin.
    Again, My Maternal Grandmother’s surname was MENchaca. What’s so D—Difficult about Correcting it?

  3. Rosi says:

    In addition to what I have already stated, Consider this: Recently, I contacted the Academy of the Spanish Basque Language in BILBAO, SPAIN and learned that MENchaca actually emerged from this Northern Spanish region. In fact, the Language spoken there dates back 1,000 years and has nothig to do with Spanish. It is called Euskera and the region in “their” Language is called Euskadi, not the Basque Region or Pais Vasco as the Spanish say.
    But remember this: Spain was not always a United Country. Spain was a conglomeration of kingdoms at one time in history. So it is not shocking that some regions still hold on to their ancient languages and customes. For example, Galicia, where they speak Gallego, and Catalonia, where they speak Catalan.
    That said, it was extraordinary to discover that the “Original” spelling of MENchaca was actually:
    MENTXAKA in the Basque language. Consequently, MENchaca is actually the CASTILLIAN spelling of MY Grandmother’s Surname!!

  4. Joel says:

    funny thing is, the “machaca” v. “emchaca” debate discussed here doesn’t even capture the way we (mis?)pronounce the name.

    as anyone in (south) austin knows, the pronunciation is “man-shak.” no final syllab. changing it from manchaca to menchaca won’t solve THAT problem.

  5. Joel says:

    sorry for the typos. hopefully you get my point.

  6. rosic says:

    Hey Joel:
    You are Way Off. Men-cha-ca is not that hard to say. Is It? What does that have to do with what you write above: machaca v. emchaca. I have noticed since I arrived in Texas that German folk and Chec folks make sure you pronounce their names correctly. What I’m asking for is not different!
    Learn to stretch your Tongue and make an effort to finally pronounce MENchaca Correctly! Don’t drop your
    Tongue near the end and say Chak!!

  7. The Admiral says:

    Hey Rosi,
    Have you ever heard of local dialects? Texas is a blend of Texian and Tejano cultures different and unique from both Mexico and other states in the Union. Go visit Boston, MA, and try telling those folks how to pronounce some of their local names. Why is there always so much prejudice against Texas and the way we do things? Joel, you are indeed correct. The local dialect in south Austin points to “man-shak.” It’s that simple. Take Newfoundland for example. Should the language police go up to “the rock” to try to teach proper English pronunciation? Are Newfoundlanders prejudice toward anglos in other parts of Canada and the U.S.? Let’s keep it real folks. Texans are not deliberately mispronouncing names out of resentment—it’s called culture.

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