When we (at least those of us in Greater Mexico) hear of or read about Cinco de Mayo, there is no question in our minds that “Mayo” refers to the month of May. The preceding “Cinco de” (Spanish for “Fifth of”) pretty much clinches it. Of course, if the overall content is in Spanish, there might still might be some ambiguity about whether it is the holiday that is being referred to, or simply a date that happens to be the one after the fourth of May. (As in “Hey, what day do we get off work?” “The fourth of July, I think.”)

We can generally resolve this kind of ambiguity by the context, as can a good indexing system and a rule base associated with a taxonomy.

If you’re reading this posting, you read English. So there’s a good chance that when you read the word “mayo”, you think of the sandwich spread formerly and formally known as mayonnaise.

Or perhaps the famous Mayo Clinic comes to mind. If you’re an American football fan (I had to throw “American” in there to differentiate the mentioned sport from soccer), you might think of New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.

The context enables us to recognize which mayo we’re dealing with. Likewise, an indexing system might take context into account when encountering the slippery word. A really good indexing rule base might help you sort things out when you have got text about Jerod Mayo’s line of mayonnaise, the proceeds of which he is donating to the Boston (not Mayo) Clinic.


As a person of Irish descent, I know perfectly well that that is not the end of Mayo’s spread. There is a County Mayo in Ireland, which has a few other Mayos, too.

If you consult the Mayo disambiguation page in Wikipedia, you will quickly discover that Mayo goes much further than Ireland. There are Mayos of one sort or another all over the world: towns, rivers, and an assortment of other geographical entities that might easily co-exist in a taxonomy or gazetteer.

Traveling down past the geographical Mayos on the Wikipedia page, one finds the names of dozens and dozens of people, many of whom have Mayo as a first name, and many of whom have Mayo as a last name. Thank goodness the four relatively famous William Mayos have different middle names.

The final category on Wikipedia’s Mayo page is, perhaps inevitably, Other. There are quite a few Other Mayos. And what might the last one be?  Where has this journey taken us?

Mayo, the Spanish word for May”

Hold the Cinco de Mayo celebration!

Barbara Gilles, Taxonomist
Access Innovations