The possibility of changing the name of the airport may become a "political battle" | MDB files

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The backlash started a week ago. One of those on board was Palma councillor for the model of the city, Neus Truyol of Més. Forgetting that her party (Miquel Ensenyat at any rate) had once volunteered the name of Ramon Llull to grace the airport, she was backing the campaign to stick with the current name. ‘The Mallorca airport already has a name,“ stated a poster image. Beneath this was #SonSantJoan.

As might have been expected, experts have been called on to offer their opinion regarding the potential Nadalisation of the airport. Gabriel Bibiloni, senior lecturer in Catalan philology and general linguistics at the University of the Balearic Islands, believes that this would be “unwise and problematic”. At a social level there wouldn’t be consensus, while the airport - as claimed above - does already have a name and one that is “popular and should not be marginalised”.

Nadal himself, who will be acutely aware of Mallorca’s politics and divisions, might now be wishing he had been less positive when the airport-naming possibility was put to him. “An honour” was what he said. “If the people who have to decide this believe it would be the right thing for Palma Airport, who am I to refuse?” Yes, but had he politely said thanks but no thanks, the matter wouldn’t have gone any further and threatened to become a “political battle”. The Partido Popular are calling for it to not be, while at the same time stoking the fire.

The #SonSantJoan campaign would seem to lend weight to Dr. Bibiloni’s opinion that this name is popular. There could of course be a degree of unstated we-don’t-want-Nadal-disguised-as-support-for-the-current-name about it, but Dr. Bibiloni may be correct - perhaps it is a popular name. Popular, but is it truly official?

The airports authority Aena uses Aeropuerto de Palma de Mallorca. One does see it given as Palma de Mallorca-Son Sant Joan, but strictly it is just Palma de Mallorca, much to the disgust of those currently in power at Palma town hall who would prefer it to simply be Palma. Except, that is, Neus Truyol - #SonSantJoan.

If there is this popularity, genuine and deep-rooted rather than bandwagoning, what is Son Sant Joan? Or perhaps, who was the Sant Joan in question? A first thing to say is that this name really shouldn’t be given a Spanish treatment, as to add San Juan after Son would mean mixing languages up. “Son” is a Mallorquí possessive that is a contraction of ço d’en, and it precedes many personal names in indicating the name of an estate - a possession in fact; who it belonged to. There are numerous examples.

This said, and as was once noted on Gabriel Bibiloni’s blog, Son San Juan used to be the modern usage until it gradually changed to, or rather back to, Son Sant Joan.

A second is that it arguably shouldn’t be two separate words; it should be Santjoan. The name only indirectly has something to do with the saint - Sant Joan, John the Baptist - as Sant Joan became a surname. And at some point it also became one word.

When Jaume I conquered Mallorca in 1229, there were three Sant Joans - Berenguer de Sant Joan, Bernat de Sant Joan and Pere de Sant Joan. Their noble name would almost certainly have been derived from a place rather than from the saint as such.

Once in Mallorca, the Sant Joans became serious nobility. Another Berenguer was governor of the Kingdom of Mallorca in the early fourteenth century. A Jordi was deputy governor a century later. Any number of Sant Joans headed the old equivalent of the town hall in Palma.

The Sant Joan possession from way back when was a collection of small farms and farmhouses. Through succession from the Nunis (Nuñez) family, which once owned it, the possession came to belong to Jordi Nunis de Santjoan towards the end of the sixteenth century. Some one hundred years later, a Joana de Santjoan was the owner, the Nunis connection having disappeared.

The possession was documented in the seventeenth century as Son Sant Joan, despite the fact that the family name had become one. It was also, and for a time, documented as Son Sen Joan, a phonetic alteration that didn’t last.

Nowadays, and according to the Institute of Catalan Studies ‘Catalan Orthography’ (conventional spelling), it should be Son Santjoan.

So, the place where the airport is has a great deal of history that dates right back to the conquest. It has also become the subject of much debate regarding the spelling and how this has changed down the centuries. But then this can be said for any number of places in Mallorca. There’s a virtual industry dedicated to the island’s place names.

Does this make it popular, though? Well, some would say it does and is grounds enough to leave the airport as it is - #SonSantJoan.