Among Cuzco, Cusco, or Qosqo, I Prefer Cusco

There is a very interesting controversy about how one should spell the name of one of the most emblematic cities of Latin America.

When I was born the name was already established as Cusco. I never thought to contradict that. Then in the epoch of Daniel Estrada Perez, one of the most influential mayors we have had in this city, the name was changed to Qosqo, reclaiming Quechua pronunciation and spelling. Years later, under other governments the name returned once again to Cusco.

Now, some academics, such as the anthropologist Jorge Flores Ochoa and the linguist Rodolfo Cerron Palomino hold that the correct spelling of the city’s name is Cuzco with a “z”.

Dr. Flores notes that the first Incas who learned Spanish and the great majority of the Spanish chroniclers wrote the name with the overwhelming spelling of Cuzco, except Garcilaso de la Vega who wrote Cozco. We can see that the name of the city was always written with a “z” until in 1979 an influential journalist and employee of the Cabildo, the city government, argued that Cuzco meant “small dog” according to the Spanish Language Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy. This argument was enough for the Provincial Municipality to change the name of the city to Cosco by edict. (1)

I remember that Professor Cerron Palomino, in his class on Andean linguistics, told us that the word Cuzco was originally Aymara (and not Quechua as is generally believed). It meant, he claimed, “a pile of stones (a boundary marker) where the owl stood”. We Cusqueños filled with the pride of Cusqueñismo or Incaism did not like this hypothesis at all. (2)

I also remember that when I was a child, during our family lunches, there was a constant debate about whether we should spell the city´s name “Cusco” or “Cuzco”. One of the arguments was that the “z” is not pronounced in Andean Spanish. There is no way that the Cusqueños of today could consistently and consciously pronounce the “z” of Castilian Spanish, something that our educated classes accept as the norm. Even more, when the “z” appears at the end of a word or in the middle of syllables we always pronounce it as “s”.  As a result, we do not say Cuzco but Cusco. We also do not say fluidez, but rather fluides. We also pronounce pas instead of paz.

Another of the arguments was that we are not Spaniards. So there is no reason to say Cuzco. Our feelings are anti-Hispanists and our condition as Incanists impede it. We did not have to obey Spanish phonetics. Only in satire did we emulate how Spaniards speak.

When I was conversing with a friend about the controversy of Cuzco or Cusco to know his position I was given a very concrete example. He said “Let’s see which of the two options is most cited by Google.” When we did the experiment the Cusco spelling gave us about 4 million citations in the face of Cuzco with just 1 million. There was no doubt there was a preference for Cusco, even though both spellings referred to the same thing, “the city in the southeast of Peru located on the eastern slopes of the Andes in the valley of the Huatanay river, a tributary of the Vilcanota”. (3)

The argument of “small dog” used to change the name of the city has never pleased me. To allow yourself to be moved by it is to accept an inferiority complex. The extreme anti-Hispanist argument of the Cusqueñistas also strikes me as futile. What do we gain from trowing up an unsubstantial Incanist or Cusqueñist defensive wall? What do we gain from building our self worth through a defense against an other?

To remove the “z” from the word Cuzco just because the “z” symbolizes the Spanish is to suggest as well that the people of Cuzco should change all their Spanish last names for some other. However, the Google argument seems to me worthy of consideration since the virtual world seems to have been converted into a virtual, implicit democracy.

In conclusion, it seems more appropriate, to me, to argue for the “s spelling on the basis of how we pronounce the name of our city. I think that contemporary grammar should be allowed to make these linguistic changes and that collective preferences should be recognized. Without doubt, the majority of the people of Cusco do not pronounce a “z” with any clarity although we easily pronounce the “s”.

I do not have any historical, Incanist, or anti-Hispanic arguments, nor any passions. I only recognize that we write as we speak and that is a simple argument. I prefer to write and pronounce Cusco because both the pronunciation and the writing is an overwhelming collective choice by the people of Cusco today.


[1] FLORES OCHOA, Jorge. 2014. “Cozco, Cuzco, Qosqo, Cusco, Kosko”, p. 7-13. En: El Antoniano. Revista Científico Cultural de la Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco (Cusco), Tomo 24, N° 126. Disponible en:
[2] CERRÓN PALOMINO, Rodolfo. 1997. “Cuzco y no Cusco, ni menos Qosqo”, p. 165-170. En: Histórica (Lima), Vol. XXI, N° 2; CERRÓN PALOMINO, Rodolfo. 2008. “Cuzco, la piedra donde se posó la lechuza. Historia de un nombre”. En: Voces Del Ande. Ensayos sobre onomástica andina (Lima: PUCP). Otro texto sería el de: CARRIÓN ORDOÑEZ, Enrique. 1993. “Cuzco, con z”, p. 267-270. En: Histórica (Lima), Vol. XVII, N° 2.

This article was originally published in Spanish here:

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