Using the words Maya and Mayan and knowing the difference between the two is not a simple concept for an English speaking brain. These two words are not interchangeable, nor are they singular words describing a broad culture, like the more familiar word French that means *anything* of French culture or of France.
Where did the confusion come from? Probably from a long list of English speaking scholars.
In the Yucatan, the Maya that I have met are fairly picky about their cultural name, so when traveling there I try to respect their culture of language.
When talking about the area or the culture, English speakers naturally want to call everything Mayan. Mayan food, Mayan language, Mayan this, Mayan that. When traveling in the Yucatan it was not uncommon to be corrected when using the word Mayan instead of Maya. *Taxi drivers were more than happy to explain the difference between the words. But even after having it explained, it’s still confusing even though there is only one real instance of where the word Mayan is used!
If you search the web you will find English speakers/writers incorrectly using the two interchangeably within a sentence of each other. This site has been guilty of it too.
So, for clarification …
It is not the Mayan Riviera, it is the Riviera Maya.
The culture is not Mayan, it is Maya, or The Maya.
The civilization is not Mayan, it is Maya civilization.
The people are not Mayan, they are Maya or The Maya.
The ruins are not Mayan, they are the Maya ruins.
The writing is Maya script.
The Confusing Example:
The language is Mayan, although when speaking about the modern language of the Yucatan it is called Yucatec Maya. But the Maya in the Yucatan just refer to it as Mayan.
The easy way to remember this is that the only time the word Mayan is used is when talking about the language!
*tsikbal = respectful conversation
*Taxi drivers are a wealth of information, and not just information about getting from Point A to Point B!