When it comes to cities and boats named after saints, it seems that "Santa" is always female and "San" is always male.


Male Saints: San Diego, San Francisco, San Antonio

Female Saints: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria

So why isn't "Santa Claus" a woman like all the other "Santa"s?


2 Answers 2


The city names you quote are all derived from Spanish, where "San" (or "Santo", as @tchrist clarifies below) is the male inflection and "Santa" the female one. However, Santa Claus isn't derived from Spanish, but from Dutch, where it was originally rendered as Sante Klaas, and was modified to Santa when it was adopted into English (and from English, to the rest of the world). Here's Etymonline's take on it:

from dialectal Dutch Sante Klaas, from Middle Dutch Sinter Niklaas "Saint Nicholas,"

English, like all other languages, borrows words from many sources, and they often carry over remnants of their original grammar or usage, even when it makes for inconsistent usage in English.

  • so there is no connection between this san and santas? that is widely famous saints?
    – Java D
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 11:09
  • 6
    He is now Sinterklaas here
    – mplungjan
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 11:12
  • 3
    Both the Spanish San/Santa and the Dutch Sante/Sinter are ultimately derived from the same root, probably Latin and borrowed by Dutch and German at some point in the past. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 11:29
  • 9
    @AvnerShahar-Kashtan: from latin sanctus, meaning holy (sanctuary = a place to keep holy things) Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 14:14
  • 8
    That’s a wee bit of a simplification: san is not guaranteed for males. Although the Spanish word santo usually apocopates to san before a man’s name, this shortening does not occur when the saint’s name starts with To- or Do-. For example, the correct forms of the saints’ names, and where it applies, therefore also the cities’, are: Santo Tomé, Santo Toribio, Santo Tomás, y Santo Domingo. There are a few other historical exceptions, which you can find here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 15:45

You can check the following links for references.

Sinterklaas (Wikipedia)

('Saint Nicholas') is a traditional winter holiday figure celebrated in various regions of Europe, including: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, some parts of Germany and Austria, (Sankt Nikolaus); Switzerland (Samichlaus), Italy (San Nicola in Bari, South Tyrol, Alpine municipalities, and many others), French Flanders, Lorraine and Artois, the Balkans, Greece. Other names for the figure include De Sint ('The Saint'), or more formally Sint Nicolaas or Sint Nikolaas; Saint-Nicolas in French; Sankt Nikolaus in German, also known as De Goedheiligman ('The Good Holy Man')

He is one of the sources of the holiday figure of Santa Claus in North America.

Saint Nicholas (Wikipedia)

I think after reading these references, your doubt will be cleared forever :)

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