Link to enlarge Masculine head from Palenque Chiapas after Michel Zabé WHO'S WHO IN THE CLASSIC MAYA WORLD
Peter Mathews

Classic Maya Names: Parentage Statements

The documentation of parentage was extremely important for the Classic Maya. This is especially true for the elites and the rulers themselves, for the ability to document one's parentage was central to the concept of royal legitimacy. It was not unusual, therefore, for rulers, in their own extended name phrases, to record their parentage. These references are called parentage statements, and they were first identified by Christopher Jones (1977) and Linda Schele, myself, and Floyd Lounsbury (1977ms). In most cases, both parents are named (the 16th century Yukatek Maya term almehen, 'noble' combines the terms for "child of mother and child of father", and nicely illustrates the obligation to document descent from both parents).

Parentage statements have been found in the inscriptions of most major Maya centers. The pattern in glyphic texts is Person 1 xxx Person 2 yyy Person 3, where 'Person 1' is the child (usually he is the adult male ruler of the site), while 'Person 2' and 'Person 3' are the parents, and xxx and yyy are relationships. Three examples are presented below.

The interpretation of such statements as the ones above is fairly straightforward. When sufficient information exists, the first named individual is the youngest of the three, by one generation. The second and third individuals are older than the first by one generation, and invariably one is male and the other female. The first individual is not just younger, but is usually the successor of the older male as ruler of the site. In other words, Person 1 is the child of Persons 2 and 3.

The records of parentage provide genealogical information which, in the case of some sites, enables us to construct detailed family histories. Most such information involves royal family members, and at sites such as Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Tikal we can propose detailed royal genealogies involving a dozen or more generations.


Jones, Christopher
1977 Inauguration dates of three Late Classic rulers of Tikal, Guatemala.
American Antiquity 42(1):28-60.
Schele, Linda, Peter Mathews, and Floyd G. Lounsbury
1977 Parentage statements in Classic Maya inscriptions.
Unpublished manuscript.

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