The letter Ñ should never be confused with the letter N, under any circumstances. We foreigners are inclined to think of Ñ as simply N with a squiggle on the top, but it is in fact a completely separate letter with a distinct sound and which therefore creates completely different words. The Ñ is unique to Spanish and is often regarded as a symbol of “Spanishness”. I have always been amazed at how easily the Spanish have let go of some of its other characteristic symbols in order to comply with the rest of the world, such as the peseta and those great old car number plates which told you where the driver came from. However, the attitude to the Ñ has been completely different. There was little short of public outrage when some shining light in the computer world proposed that the Ñ should be removed from computer keyboards, to be replaced by a combination of the two letters “ny”. This might have facilitated trade and world relations from every angle, but there was no way the Spanish would countenance the move and it was abandoned.
Despite this historic victory, until very recently is has not been possible to use the ñ in e-mail and website addresses. However, with even more pressure and lobbying, this has also now been resolved. I used to listen to a radio programme containing the word “mañana” and I always felt rather sorry for the presenters as they read their e-mail address to listeners with the banal sounding “manana”. It felt as though they had been robbed of their dignity in some way. The whole row about the Ñ has really coincided in recent years with a recognition of the importance of the Spanish language on the world stage, so well done them for sticking to their guns, that’s what I say!
Perhaps this little summary gives you more of an idea as to why the Ñ is important, quite apart from the fact that if you get it wrong, you are liable not to be understood, or to be saying something quite different. Not only that, but there are many Spanish names containing the letter, such as the first name Iñigo and the surname Nuñez, and you know how fussy people are about their names.