New Mexico received its name in the 1500s, long before the present-day nation of Mexico won independence from Spain and adopted that name in 1821. Though the name "Mexico" itself derives from Nahuatl, and in that language it originally referred to the heartland of the Empire of the Mexicas (Aztec Empire) in the Valley of Mexico far from the area of New Mexico, Spanish explorers also used the term "Mexico" to name the region of New Mexico (Nuevo México in Spanish) in 1563. In 1581, the Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition named the region north of the Rio Grande "San Felipe del Nuevo México". The Spaniards had hoped to find wealthy indigenous Mexica (Aztec) cultures there similar to those of the Aztec (Mexica) Empire of the Valley of Mexico. The indigenous cultures of New Mexico, however, proved to be unrelated to the Mexicas, and they were not wealthy, but the name persisted. Before statehood, the name "New Mexico" was applied to various configurations of the U.S. territory, to a Mexican state, and to a province of New Spain, all in the same general area, but of varying extensions.
^ Weber, David J. (1992) The Spanish Frontier in North America, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, page 79
^ Sanchez, Joseph P. (1987) The Rio Abajo Frontier, 1540–1692: A History of Early Colonial New Mexico, Albuquerque: Museum of Albuquerque History Monograph Series, page 51
^ Stewart, George (2008) Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States, New York: NYRB Classics, →ISBN, pages 23–24:
There was Francisco de Ibarra, a great seeker after gold mines. In 1563, he went far to the north ... when he returned south, Ibarra boasted that he had discovered a New Mexico. Doubtless, like others, he stretched the tale, and certainly the land of which he told was well south of the one now so called. Yet, men remembered the name Nuevo México, though not at first, as that of the region which Coronado had once conquered.
^ Rivera, José A., Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, University of New Mexico Press, 1998.