HispanicVista Columnists

Julian Nava – the journey of his name

June 20, 2005
By John P Schmal/HispanicVista.com

According to the “Population Research website, 19,300 persons living in the United States bear the last name Nava, giving it a rank of Number 1803 among American surnames. However, among Spanish surnames in the United States, Nava ranks Number 213. By comparison, Rodriguez – with a shared population of 631,000 persons – is Number 22 among all American surnames. Gonzalez – with a population of 457,400 – is Number 38, while Sanchez (with 231,500 persons) ranks at Number 99.

The United States Census Bureau – in its Technical Working Paper No. 13 – ranked Nava as Number 198 among Spanish surnames in America in 1996. According to “Population Research,” the surname Nava is even less common in Spain, where it has a shared population of 1,900 individuals and is ranked at Number 599.

The surname Nava is a very ancient noble line that originated in Asturias in northern Spain. The etymology of the surname Nava is discussed in great detail by the García Carraffa’s Diccionario de Apellidos. According to this source, Nava has the same origin and root as the Asturia y Alvarez line from Asturias. They share a common origin and history, stretching deep into the ancient northern kingdoms of Asturias and León.

Individuals with the surname Nava – over time – made their way southward into the Spanish provinces of Castilla, Andalusia and Extremadura. Andalusia, boasting almost 34,000 square miles in area, is the southernmost and most extensive region of Spain. Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada all lay within its boundaries. Castilla and Extremadura are located within Spain’s arid central region, adjacent to Andalusia.

One of the Andalusian branches of the Nava surname, residing in Granada, earned noble status as the Counts of Noroña. This branch of the family is discussed in some detail in Diccionario de Apellidos. Alvaro Vásquez de Nava, one of the conquerors of Granada during the Fifteenth Century and a member of the Order of Santiago, served a distinguished career as a cavalryman. He was noted for his great valor and received by Queen Isabel several times. Alvaro and his son Alonso Vásquez de Nava established a new branch of the Nava line in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 1535.

The earliest known Nava to arrive in the Western Hemisphere from Spain was Diego de Nava who left Spain on September 23, 1512 for the West Indies. Diego had been born in Palencia in the northern part of Old Castilla. At this time, Spain had not yet discovered the existence of Mexico or Peru, so Diego’s ultimate destination – if he left the West Indies at all – is not known.

The second Nava to set foot in the Americas left Spain on May 19, 1517. This pioneer’s name was Diego de Nava and he was a native of Sevilla in southern Spain. He was followed in June 1527 by Juan de Nava, a resident of Quesada, in the land of Ubeda in the southern province of Andalusia.

Then in 1554, Alonso de Nava and his wife Juana de Godoy embarked from Spain for the young and prosperous colony of Nueva España (Mexico). Later in the year, Juan de Nava – the son of Juana de Nava and Maria Gonzalez and a resident of Sevilla – departed from Spain with his wife Gregoria Rodriguez. Both explorers left Spain with the intention of making their homes in Nueva España.

Three years later in 1557, Francisco de Nava, the son of Juan de Nava and
Catalina Gonzalez and a resident of Sevilla, arrived in Mexico. Not long after this, Juan de Nava, the son of Juan de Nava and Catalina Gonzalez, left Sevilla with his wife Maria Hernandez. On July 1578, Juan de Nava, a native of Santillana, Spain, the son of Pedro de Nava and Aldonza Pérez, left Spain for Nueva Galicia as a servant of Doctor Juan de Pareja, a judge of the Audiencia (Government) of Nueva Galicia.

Although several Nava’s left Spain to go to Peru and Central America, it is believed that several settled the Nueva Galicia area of Mexico, which was then composed primarily of the present-day states of Jalisco and Zacatecas. It is likely that some of the Nava’s living in the United States and Mexico today may be descended from some of these early voyagers.

Eventually, the newly-settled areas around northern Jalisco, Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas began to receive significant numbers of Nava’s. A significant cluster of Nava’s developed in southwestern Zacatecas near the towns of Jerez, Juanchorrey, and Tepetongo. The large population of Nava’s living in Tepetongo seems to derive in large part from Rafael de Nava and his wife Maria Josefa Romana Correa, who lived around 1750. The lives and accomplishments of the Nava’s in Tepetongo has been discussed in some detail by José León Robles de la Torre’s 1999 publication Filigranas, Fundaciones y Genealogias, Tepetongo, Zacatecas.