So what’s a nómina?

Anyone who works in Spain is used to getting a nómina. It’s the sheet of paper that you get at the end of the month specifying your wage, and all deductions – what we call a paysheet. “Just off to get me numana” cry the happy Brits on the 31st of the month, rubbing their hands in anticipation.

Or is it?

The word is actually far more fascinating than that, and the RAE (Real Academia Española) doesn’t recognise the word nómina in a way that translates as paysheet. Instead, it’s a roster.

The second definition of the word in this sense is thus given as:

“relación nominal de los individuos que en una oficina pública o particular han de percibir haberes y justificar con su firma haberlos recibido”

Nominal relationship of the individuals who in a public or private office must receive assets and justify with their signature having received them.

But the word has older meanings.

It comes from the latin nomĭna (plural n. of nomen, –ĭnis). Name. So nómina means name; list of.

Of course, people link new concepts to old words.

So cobrar la nómina means colloquially “to get [my] wage”. But hacer la nómina has an older meaning: to check a list of names or items – to check off the roster. Over time, its meaning has tightened to a financial meaning, the roster of assets and costs due to an employee.

But if we spin back just a couple of hundred years, we get an entirely different meaning of nómina: it was a magic amulet upon which were written the names of saints. In fact, the tradition of the nómina stretches back all the way to the Arabs – they used to have a lucrative sideline in making magic nóminas and selling them to the Christians.

Of course, some would say (ironically) that the nómina still has a magic meaning, as it allows you to live – and makes people fight to the death to get elected every four years!

nómina.

(Del lat. nomĭna, pl. n. de nomen, -ĭnis, nombre).

1. f. Lista o catálogo de nombres de personas o cosas.

2. f. Relación nominal de los individuos que en una oficina pública o particular han de percibir haberes y justificar con su firma haberlos recibido.

3. f. Estos haberes. Cobrar la nómina.

4. f. En lo antiguo, reliquia en que estaban escritos nombres de santos. Hoy se llama así a ciertos amuletos supersticiosos.

PS: Nomina doesn’t mean the same as Nómina. Nomina is the second person imperative of nominar (to name, to designate). Don’t forget the tilde!

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