What's in a name? Why changing València to Valéncia is a big political problem in Spain

Regional flags in the city of Valencia.
Regional flags in the city of Valencia. Copyright Unsplash
Copyright Unsplash
By Laura Llach
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The subtle but controversial change in the direction of the accent perfectly reflects the division in the Spanish political landscape.


What may seem an insignificant change to any non-Spanish speaker, or even to most Spaniards, has sparked political anger among Valencians.

A name change has been proposed for the city in eastern Spain. The city council's cultural committee wants València, as it is now written in Valencian, to become the bilingual Valéncia/Valencia.

This proposal includes both the Spanish name and the change of the ‘tilde’ - the Spanish word for accent - from open (`) to closed (´) in the Valencian language name. From València to Valéncia.

The subtle but controversial change in the direction of the ‘tilde’ perfectly reflects the division in the Spanish political landscape and the battle of regionalisms.

It was in 2017 that the left-wing regionalist coalition Compromís gave the green light to the change.

"What could be more normal than calling the city of Valencia in Valencian language?" the former mayor celebrated.

Besides, he added, it was a rule that had been approved since 1996, "although not implemented", paralysed by 20 years of conservative Popular Party rule in the region.

Now the conservatives have just been returned to power after a regional election last May in which Spain's conservative opposition defeated the Socialists.

This resulted in a clear re-drawing of the political map of local and regional power in the Iberian nation.

One of the most controversial coalitions came from Valencia. The Popular Party (PP), lacking the votes to govern, joined forces with the ultra-right (Vox) in order to form a government.

In the government agreement, the PP set a single red line: the candidate proposed by Vox - convicted of gender violence - would not have a seat in the government.

But there was no reference to the name of the city.

It did not take long for the newly formed coalition to change the direction of the accent.

City of Valencia.Unsplash

‘Solemn nonsense'

While the opposition accuses the conservatives of 'tying their hands' in the face of Vox, the far-right party celebrates having achieved 'the return of Valencia's official name to Spanish and the abolition of Catalan nomenclature'.

The average Valencian's indifference to the name change contrasts with the surprisingly heated debate between the parties.

"It seems to me a solemn nonsense," said Compromís, the left-wing party that first changed the direction of the ‘tilde’ six years ago.

"If it were a name that changes a lot, but here we are talking about putting an accent on one side or the other, or not putting it at all," they added.

The Socialists said the change is "illegal" and it shows the influence Vox has over the Popular Party.


"Today it is breaking the law and changing the official accent of the city, and tomorrow it could be such important things as leaving out a banner against gender violence," said their spokesperson, Sandra Gómez.

The left-wing parties agree that the bilingual form of writing Valencia should be avoided, as it buries the region's historical linguistic tradition.

The small but significant change involves a lengthy bureaucratic process in which the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua has the penultimate word and can issue an unfavourable report.

If the name change survives this process, it will have to go through the regional parliament.

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