A list of Q'eqchi' Maya last names is like an index of zoological and botanical species. Last names such as: dog, howler monkey, hawk, squirrel, turtle, and hummingbird probably derived from the companion spirit tradition. The ancient Maya believed that one is born with a companion spirit called nahual. Names such as Ca'al, Che', Acte' and Ical derive from the names of trees. Other names such as Ixim (corn), Cacoa (chocolate), Tzul and Witz (mountain), and Pek (rock) derive from important crops and important object symbols.
Names are an important window into a culture and a language. Names tell us which animals, birds, plants and crops were important enough to acheive the level of companion spirit. They also provide us with clues to the connection between the modern and ancient Maya. Take for example, the last name: Acte'. The acte' is a tree with a spine-covered trunk. The root of the word acte' is te'. The word te' is the ancient (or proto) Maya word for tree. The Q'eqchi' Maya word for tree is simular, che'. The tree species name has been remembered from ancient times, even after the ancient meaning of te' as tree had been forgotten.
The same can be said for Tzul and Wuitz. These two last names both mean mountain. The last name Tzul is Q'eqchi'. The word tzul would be understood anywhere in Q'eqchi' to carry the meaning mountain. The last name Witz is common among the Q'eqchi' of the Sierra Yalijux. The word witz also means mountain, but in the ancient language. Today no Q'eqchi' Maya speaker would recognize the ancient meaning if she had not studied proto-maya. Yet, this last name is a common name among the Q'eqchi' people. Are the families with this sir name Chol people that assimulated to their Q'eqchi' linguistic surroundings or are they Q'eqchi' people with very ancient nahual based names?
Another last name shows the continuity between the ancient and modern. The last name Mo' is a fairly common last name among the Q'eqchi', Pocomchi' and Quiche' Maya. The word mo' means Scarlet Macaw. The word mo' has not changed in pronouciation nor in meaning since ancient times. Today, both the last name Mo' and the word mo' mean Scarlet Macaw.
Place names are another interesting window into the relationship between ancient and modern Maya. Take for example the place "Cubilwitz". The name of this Q'eqchi' village has no meaning in the Q'eqchi' language. However, in ancient Chol it means "holy mountain." And in proto-maya it comes very close to the same direct translation. Does this mean that Cubilwitz was once a Chol village? Does it mean that this village traces its history back to ancient times. Very possible!
Piece by piece, we begin to assemble the whole picture like a jigsaw puzzel coming together. We begin to see both the proximity and the distance between the modern Q'eqchi' Maya and the ancient Maya.