We will probably never know La Malinche's true name. We do know, however, that she was called Dona Marina by Cortes and his men. We also know that Cortes was called Malinche, which at the time probably meant “sir.” Many historians believe that Dona Marina was called La Malinche because she was considered by Mexican people to be a traitor. In fact, even today, the word “Malinchista,” is used to imply that a person is a traitor and not truly Mexican.
Most of what we know about Dona Marina we know from the incredible eye witness accounts of conquistador turned author Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Castillo served under many of the Spanish Conquistadors, and he was with Cortes for his entire Mexican campaign. In his amazing book entitled, “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico,” Castillo's richly detailed account tells us that everywhere Cortes went Dona Marina went. They even had a child.
In his book, Bernal Diaz del Castillo states that as a child she was raised in the town of Paynala and that her parents were chiefs of this village. Her father died when she was a child, and the mother remarried another much younger chief or cacique. Before long they had a son, and the father was said to heavily favor the son. Above all, he didn't want Dona Marina to become chief. After he died, the cacique wanted his son to become chief. Before long, they decided to give Donna Marina to the people from the tribe in Xicalango. Her parents did this under a veil of secrecy. They didn't tell anyone what they had done, instead they spread a rumor that she had died.
The people of Xicalango gave her to the people of Tabasco who in turn gave her to Cortes. Dona Marina would prove to be one of Cortes greatest assets in the New World. Not only did she speak Nahuatl, which was the language of the Aztecs, but she also spoke Coatzacoalcos, and Tabasco. This was extremely important because Jeronimo de Aguilar, one of Cortes's men, spoke Tabasco and Yucatan. Aguilar in return translated everything into Castilian.
Much has been written about Dona Marina saving the lives of Cortes and his men in Cholula. When rumors first surfaced about a surprise attack by the Cholulans and 20,000 of Montezuma's men it was two Cempola Indians who first brought word of an impending attack. However, Dona Marina was able to bribe two priests for more information. Then shortly afterward, an old woman whom she had befriended, walked into the Spanish camp and told her about the impending attack, and the types of traps that had been set for them. This of course, was crucial information that probably saved the Spaniards. Then, shortly afterward Dona Marina would have a major role in the kidnapping of Montezuma. Before long, Dona Marina fell in love with a Spanish hildalgo named Juan Jaramillo. They married during the Cortes expedition. It is not known what happened to her relationship with Cortes.
One day Dona Marina would return to her hometown, and among the people that assembled were her family members. Suddenly, Dona Marina found herself staring into the eyes of her mother, who she hadn't seen since she had been given away. At once the mother and her half-brother began crying and shaking in fear because they believed that she had come to put them to death. Instead, Dona Marina told them not to fear, that they were forgiven.