On June 20th, Argentines commemorate the bicentennial of their sky-blue-and-white flag, which was designed by Manuel Belgrano, one of the liberators of Argentina during the long wars of independence. He first waved it on February 27th, 1812, but not everybody liked it at first and it would be long before it was accepted. When independence was declared in 1816, it became the flag of the new Republic. But it wasn’t until 1938 that June 20th, the date of Belgrano’s death, was made into a national holiday called Día de la bandera (Flag Day).
The period of independence in all Latin American republics was one of great upheaval. This is why historians debate the reasons why the sky-blue and white colors came to be associated with the Argentine Republic’s flag. Originally, these colors had been used during the May Revolution of 1810, when the Viceroy was deposed, but this was only the first of a complicated series of events that followed and led to independence six years later.
Even the origin of the name, Argentina, is obscure. As a Spanish colony, Argentina was known as the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata – or River of Silver. This Viceroyalty was created late, in 1776, as a group of dependencies of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Argentine was originally a nickname for Buenos Aires’ high society, poking fun at their attachment to French culture (argent means “silver” in French, but the Spanish word is plata).
Somehow, the joke stuck: the term “Argentina” popped up among the various names the government experimented with, including Confederación Argentina, República de la Confederación Argentina and Federación Argentina (Federation of Argentina). Today, Argentina’s official name is Republicá Argentina.
Find out more about the history of the Spanish language in The Story of Spanish, by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, to be published by St. Martin’s Press in April 2013.