I remember the beginning of the well-known Mexican song by Marcos A. Jiménez:

Adiós, Mariquita linda,
ya me voy porque tú ya no me quieres
como yo te quiero a ti.

Goodbye, pretty little Marica,
I’m going away now because you no longer love me
As much as I love you.

Written with a capital letter, Mariquita is the diminutive of Marica, which itself is a pet form of María (as is Maruca). But with a small letter, mariquita is the Spanish word for what English variously calls a ladybug, a ladybird, or now increasingly and with biological accuracy a lady beetle. That the Spanish name for the insect should be linked to María may seem strange, but in Catholic countries, of which Spain is one, María understandably has strong positive connotations. This is the María/Mary to whom people, including Paul McCartney, find themselves appealing in times of trouble. And appealing to our eyes is the bright red covering of the ladybug—note how the English term likewise refers to Mary, though using not her name but her title, [Our] Lady. Esthetics aside, farmers and agronomists have found the ladybug to be beneficial because it eats various types of smaller insects that can damage crops, and that beneficial nature is apparently the common quality that originally linked the ladybug to Our Lady.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

P.S.  Readers who’d like to supplement these words with a picture can turn to my recently launched nature photography blog to see a photograph of a lady beetle in a colony of wild sunflowers.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Scott
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 08:13:48

    Nice … I’ve been wondering about this etymology in the English form.

    Now, did the Spanish & English allusion to Our Lady arise independently (which would be quite remarkable) or did one influence the other?


    • wordconnections
      Jun 15, 2011 @ 13:09:45

      From the little reading I’ve done on this, the allusion seems to go back at least to the Middle Ages, but who started it I don’t know. If you ever find out, please let us know.


  2. Trackback: mariposa « Spanish-English Word Connections
  3. Ly
    Oct 19, 2012 @ 22:47:15

    Do you know the old form of the word in Spanish? Just curious, since in Tagalog (one of the languages of the Philippines), marikit translates to “pretty”, with “rikit” being the root word. There’s even an old city in the country with the name Marikina (supposedly a shortened form of Marikit-na, and, again, supposedly named after a woman). I’ve yet to encounter Marikita or Mariquita used as a female name in the Philippines, but it doesn’t sound too impossible (especially since names ending in -a are almost always feminine).

    The Philippines is a former Spanish colony, so I was wondering if this is just one of those linguistic coincidences or one culture influenced the other in terms of the name.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 19, 2012 @ 23:03:22

      Mariquita is the diminutive of Marica, which itself is a pet form of María. Spanish took María straight from Latin, which got it ultimately from ancient Hebrew Maryam. As you can see, then, the resemblance to Tagalog marikit is purely coincidental, even though Tagalog and the other Philippine languages did borrow thousands of Spanish words and names. For more than a century now, the Philippine languages have been borrowing heavily from English.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

%d bloggers like this: