An interesting homonym puzzle has emerged during the Sleep Inn’s celebration of the revamping of Paseo de los Damas, the street that runs directly behind the hotel. This historic street has been known primarily as Avenida Tercera (Third Avenue), but city planners recently decided to revive its centuries-old name when they widened the street, restored its granite sidewalks and planted more overhanging trees.
The confusion stems from the fact that the word “dama” is a homonym. Spanish speakers are familiar with the noun “dama,” which means “lady.” A “Damas” sign usually hangs outside women’s bathrooms in Costa Rica, and ladies and gentlemen are formally called “damas y caballeros.” This type of “dama” is, of course, feminine, and the noun takes the feminine article “la” (”la dama”).
Many people have assumed that Paseo de los Damas refers to the gentlewomen who once strolled along the historic road. The street name seems to conjure images of parasol-twirling ladies tripping along the shady streets in their finery.
Oddly, though, the street name does not refer to women at all. The word “dama” is masculine, as its preceding article indicates (”el dama”). The dama is a flowering tree found all over Costa Rica, and this tree now lines the famous avenue. The street that many assume to have been named after its elegant female users was actually named in honor of the trees that dip overhead in the breeze.
Although the article before the noun indicates that those ladies are not the ones being remembered along the charming new street, the connotation of those elegant women of long ago is so pleasant that we at the Sleep Inn approve of the homonym confusion and the charming images it creates.