On Tuesday, the island’s regional parliament put the finishing touches to a proposal that will hopefully answer that question once and for all: although this is the third time in a decade that the city has changed its name. On this occasion, back to Palma.
Until 2006 the city was known, at least outside the island, as Palma de Mallorca, but the then mayor, the Socialist Party’s Aina Calvo pushed through a change of name to Palma.
Four years later, with the Popular Party (PP) in power and Mateu Isern occupying the post of mayor, the city was officially renamed Palma de Mallorca, the idea being to give the city a clearer identity around the rest of Spain as well as to avoid confusion with other locations – such as the Canary island of La Palma – bearing the same or similar names.
This aroused the ire of nationalists, leftists and other local groups that saw no need to give the city a surname, saying this was centralist, provincial and without any historical grounds.
Historian Ramón Rosselló explains that the Romans called the city Palma around 123 BC. Arab conquerors then dubbed it Madina Mayurca, and it was then renamed Ciutat de Mallorca after Jaime I reconquered it. Then, in the early 18th century, the city reclaimed its original Roman name of Palma, which stuck until the late 19th century and the emergence of Spain as a nation state.
For most residents of the city, it remains simply Palma, or for some Ciutat.
For non-residents, it has to be said that there can be some confusion between the island, Mallorca, and its main city, Palma. Rita Barberá, the former mayor of Valencia who died earlier this month from a heart attack, once referred to Palma as “an adorable island.”
There is even greater confusion outside Spain, says Álvaro Gijón, a PP member of Congress for the island. “In Germany we cannot sell Palma as a tourist destination. We have to be practical, because we depend on tourism. It doesn’t matter what locals call the city.” He says that if his party regains power, it will rename the city Palma de Mallorca. Again.
English version by Nick Lyne.