the Family Name

by Alejandro Ochoa García

A brief history of my paternal family name.


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This page is dedicated to my first family name, Ochoa. My investigation was concentrated on this family name since the others are more common and it has been hard for me to write anything pertinent to my family (my dad is Ochoa *, my mom García *). Here's a page dedicated to the last name García, as they say, one of the most extended last names in the world.

In my family there are other interesting last names. My paternal-paternal great grandfather was called Carlos Ochoa Reallivásquez and I failed miserably trying to find information on his second family name on the internet, althought I was able to find a few uninformative examples of the variant Realivásquez.

Origin in the Iberian Peninsula


The original version of the last name is Otxoa, and comes from the Basque word Otsoa that means wolf. I have not bothered finding out what the difference between Otso and Otsoa is, I only know it's an inflexion of the Basque language. In the same way, I suppose Otxoa is a grammatical change that converts the word into a last name, but it might just be a (non-grammatical) variant. It is not clear since when has the last name existed, the oldest reference I have seen is from the conquest of the New Spain (this individual was born in 1490), but the family name must be much older.

Otxoa and its variants in the past were used both as given and family names. In fact, Otxoa was patronymic, which meant that if your father was named Otxoa then your family name Otxoa indicated this fact. There are many patronymics in various languages, including Johnson (son of John), O'Brien (son of Brien), Ramírez (son or daughter of Ramiro), and Ivanova (daughter of Ivan). The only difference between Otxoa and these examples is that this family name is identical to the given name (to the best of my knowledge). A patronymic implies that the people with this family name are not necesarily related to each other. It is said that this is the reason why the family name Otxoa was spread all over the Basque Country and Navarra. Of course, Otxoa ceased to be a patronymic a long time ago.

Basque Country

The Basque Country is located in the north of Spain, although a small portion is in France. The Spanish region of Navarra is also of Basque descendence, although the Basque language hasn't been spoken commonly there in a long time. The Basque people are one of the oldest and most enigmatic of the world, with one of the only completely independent languages of the world (in particular it's non-indoeuropean), and a long history protected by geography that could go back to the conquest of Europe by the first modern humans (Cro-Magnon, 40,000 years ago).

I have read so many ridiculous versions of this last name, but I have decided (as if I had authority) that the following are the only three variants, one for each of the languages of the Iberian Peninsula.

In modern Basque (and Catalan?): Otxoa
In Castilian: Ochoa
In Portuguese (and Galician?): Uchôa

Note that modern Basque orthography wasn't set until 1964 by the Royal Basque Language Academy (Euskaltzaindia), and previously the last name was probably written "Ochoa" in Basque as it was in Castilian.

In Basque, the letter "x" sounds like "sh" in English, and consequently "tx" sounds like "ch" in Castilian. The vowels are identical in Castilian and Basque (and in fact it is debated who influenced whom). Ochoa, in Castilian, sounds and is written like the eighth cardinal number followed by the letter A. However, we know that this has nothing to do with it's meaning in Basque. Nevertheless, it is common nowadays to abreviate it as 8A among people with this last name. I prefer my roman version, VIIIA (although I found out recently that an Ochoa from León, Guanajuato had invented it before me).

Due to the Castilian conquest of America, the Castilian version of the family name is the most common in the world. The Ochoa tend to be Spanish, Mexican or Colombian, or from neighboring countries like the United States. I have not heard the Basque version outside of Iberia. The portuguese version, to the best of my knowledge, is common in Brazil, and even one of the municipalities of this country is called Uchoa.

Ochoa coat of arms Ochoa coat of arms

The Ochoa apparently were great knights, since there are many coats of arms for this last name. A page I found shows 10 of these shields, usually given by the king of Spain. Seven of these have wolves (one has a fox, who knows why), three have a sinople tree, and another one leaves of the same tree. Another page explains the origin of the family name Ochoa in a more precise way than what I have done so far.

The Ochoa in Mexico

This history goes back to the origins of the modern Mexican nation itself. Among the conquistadors of Cortés there were five with the family name Ochoa, including Juan Ochoa de Lexalde, who received a coat of arms in 1546 from the king of Spain for his services under Cortés. The rest of these conquistadors were Gonzalo de Ochoa, Juan Ochoa, Pedro Ochoa de Verazu, and an anonymous Ochoa.

Since then, the family name has spread to all corners of modern Mexico, although it seems to be more common in the north than the south, and it went as far as California in 1769, when it was still part of the New Spain. Nowadays, there are many Ochoa in Ciudad Juárez, but none are directly related to my family. It is not clear whether we are descendants of the conquistadors that followed Cortés, since it is very likely that other Ochoas had come from Spain in other migrations.

My Known Ochoa Ascendence

The history that my close family knows about the Ochoa started with the birth of my great paternal-paternal grandfather Carlos Ochoa Reallivásquez circa 1888 in Chínipas, in Chihuahua. The family moved to Villa Ahumada afterward, where Ochoa Reallivásquez worked in a telegraph office.

The family legend tells that his telegraph office was taken by the one and only Francisco Villa. Ochoa Reallivásquez, like many before him, had been ordered shot under the excuse that he was a federal employee of the new government of the usurper Victoriano Huerta. However, the new military advisor Felipe Ángeles recommended to Villa not to shoot this man, for he was more useful for them alive than dead (nobody else knew how to operate the telegraph). This is how four generations later I am here to tell the story.

The date of this event is estimated between January and May of 1914. These were the same dates around which Ángeles was with Villa in this area of the country and coincide with the stay of Ochoa Reallivásquez in Villa Ahumada. Ángeles would come back after 1918 but by then Ochoa Reallivásquez was already living in Ciudad Juárez. This story is very consistent since Ángeles was known for pardoning Villa's prisoners. If we allow the supposition that Ángeles was not part of the story, but a distortion of the legend, we could also place the event around November of 1913, during the capture of Ciudad Juárez that gave international fame to Pancho Villa. Since it's a fun story, I'll quote a long part.

While one part of the men distracted the enemy in the outskirts of Chihuahua, the other, under Villa's command, intercepted and discharged two carbon trains in the Terrazas station. His men boarded the wagons and the horsemen followed them from the outside, on route to Ciudad Juárez. At ever station after Terrazas, Villa imprisoned the telegraphist and asked for instructions to the base at Ciudad Juárez, pretending to be a federal officer in charge of the convoys. Again and again he adduces the impossibility of returning on his way south, and again and again he is ordered to come back north. The night of November 15, 1913, while the Federales slept or pleasured themselves in playing houses, a bright signal announced the assault. In no time at all, Villa's troops took the quarter, the arms division, the international bridges, the horse racetrack and the playing houses. The American newspapers and the public opinion were surprised by the incredible feat. In Fort Bliss, General Scott compared it with the war of Troy. (1)

The path of my great grandfather is shown in the map of Chihuahua below. Displayed in red are the geographic points in which we have located him, along with dates. Ignore the map error, Chínipas is within Chihuahua, just next to the dot marked.

The path of my great grandfather

My paternal grandfather Carlos Ochoa Fuentes was the first generation of my paternal lineage born in Juárez, in 1919. My father, * * Ochoa *, together with his older brothers * * and *, are the second generation, although the last two emmigrated to El Paso, TX and Monterrey, NL respectively. My siblings and I are from Juárez as well, although technically we were born across the river, in El Paso.

Famous Ochoas

Now there's an article dedicated to the last name on Wikipedia, which contains a longer and more updated list of famous Ochoas (but not much else last time I saw it, in 2010-07-27).

Severo Ochoa de Albornoz
Spaniard. Nobel Prize in medicine 1959.

Ellen Ochoa
Mexican-American. First latina astronaut, NASA, optics engineer.

Digna Ochoa
Mexican. Human rights activist, assassinated in Mexico City.

Lorena Ochoa
Mexican. International golfer.

Alex Ochoa
Cuban-American? American beisbol player, debuted with the New York Mets.

Julia Otxoa
Spaniard. Contemporary writer and poet.

Los Ochoa de Medellin
Colombians. Drug-dealers.

Fernando Ochoa y Chavez
Mexican. Bull-fighter.

Carlos Augusto Ochoa Mendoza
Mexican. Soccer player, plays for the Rayados of Monterrey.

Luis Fernando Ochoa
Colombian. Musical composer and producer.

Eliades Ochoa
Cuban. Guitarrist and singer.

Gorka Otxoa
Spaniard. Actor.

Javier Otxoa Palacios
Spaniard. Cyclist.

Alex Uchôa
Brazilian. Photographer.

Fernando Ochoa
Mexican. Businessman, humanitarian services.

Fernando César Ochoa
Argentinian. Actor.


(1) Enrique Krauze. Francisco Villa, entre el ángel y el fierro. Fondo de cultura económica. México D.F., 1987, pg. 24. Translated into English by Alejandro Ochoa García.