Skip to comments.Archaeology Paper Reports Meaning Of Indian River Names
Posted on 03/11/2003 4:25:49 PM PST by blam
Archaeology paper reports meaning of Indian river names
McCOMB, Miss. - The Chickasawhay, one of the finest rivers in the state, also has one of the prettiest-sounding names - Chick-a-sah-HAY. The Choctaw meaning: "Place Where Martins Dance."
The name probably referred to a long bluff on the river known as King's Bluff where martins built nests in the bank.
That tidbit is in a research paper by University of Southern Mississippi anthropology student Chris McPhail: "Mississippi Rivers: A Study of Choctaw Indian Place-Names of the Streams and Rivers of the State of Mississippi."
McPhail pored over 300-year-old maps of French explorers showing the rivers with their Indian names. To translate them he studied the Muskhogean language the tongue of Choctaws and related tribes and consulted books such as "Choctaw Language Dictionary."
Right off the bat he solved "bogue" (originally "boke") refers to a clear, swift stream with a sandy gravel bottom, while "hatchie" (originally hatcha) refers to a sluggish, broad, deep river.
Just look at the rivers with "bogue" in the name, like Bogue Chitto and Bogue Homa, and then at those with "hatchie," like Tallahatchie and Hatchie, and the difference is obvious.
Some of his definitions disagree with those given by other sources, which suggests that the translation of old Indian place names is a mighty complicated business. Samples:
_Mississippi River. There are many theories about the meaning of Mississippi. McPhail thinks it's a contraction of Choctaw "mishi sipokni sipi," meaning infinitely old.
_Yazoo: McPhail dissents from the commonly accepted "river of death" and says Yazoo comes from "yashu," Choctaw for stinking mud.
_Tallahatchie River, Tallahala Creek, Tallahoma Creek: After much research, McPhail found a distinction between the Choctaw word "tala," which means palmetto, and "tali," which means rock. As a result, he says Tallahatchie means palmetto river, Tallahala means dancing palmetto, but Tallahoma means red rock.
_Homochitto River, Bogue Homa Creek, Tallahoma Creek: McPhail likewise differentiates between "humma," which means red, and "homi," which means bitter. Thus he says Homochitto means big red and Tallahoma means red rock, but Bogue Homa stands for bitter creek. Incidentally, he says the original name for Homochitto was Bokomachito, as in Bogue Homo Chitto, or big red creek (chitto means big).
_Okatoma: This name comes not from a contraction of homa but from "oka" for water and "katoma" for stench, thus stinking water.
_Yocona River: This is a contraction of "yockni catawpha hatcha," or land of dividing creeks.
_Tombigbee River: From "itombi ikbe," or box maker, in reference to the limestone slabs along the river which Indians used to make boxes to hold the bones of their deceased.
_Buttahatchie: "Bota hatcha," corn meal river.
_Buckatunna: Probably from "bogue tunna," or weaving creek, either from its meandering course or from riverside canes which could be used to weave baskets. Or maybe tunna comes from "tunnap" for "other side," since the creek was on the far side of the Chickasawhay River where the Choctaws had a village.
_Biloxi: "Biluchi," hickory bark.
_Tchoutacabouffa: "Shuti kobaffi," broken pots.
_Pearl: Maps show the Indians called the middle river "Talli Yaiya," or moaning rock. McPhail believes this came from a section of rock cliff which "produces a clearly audible moaning sound as wind blows up the river and is trapped and forced over this rock and into the recessed cliff. Years after reading accounts of this phenomenon and after many trips by small boat to this place I was finally privileged to hear it. It can be likened to one blowing into an open soda bottle."
_Topisaw: McPhail didn't include this in his paper but analyzed it at McComb outdoorswoman Vickie Cothern's request. His best guesses were "tabi sha," which means peeled vines, or "tappa asha," meaning "creek of many falling banks."
by Borgna Brunner
Many American places have been named after Indian words. In fact, about half of the states got their names from Indian words. The name of Kentucky comes from an Iroquoian word (Kentahten), which means "land of tomorrow." Connecticut's name comes from the Mohican word (Quinnehtukqut), which means "beside the long tidal river." And the word "Podunk," meant to describe a insignificant town out in the middle of nowhere, comes from a Natick Indian word meaning "swampy place."
Here are some others:
Alabama: may come from Choctaw meaning "thicket-clearers" or "vegetation-gatherers."
Alaska: corruption of Aleut word meaning "great land" or "that which the sea breaks against."
Arizona: from the Indian "Arizonac," meaning "little spring" or "young spring."
Chicago (Illinois): Algonquian for "garlic field."
Chesapeake (bay): Algonquian name of a village.
Connecticut: from an Indian word (Quinnehtukqut) meaning "beside the long tidal river."
Illinois: Algonquin for "tribe of superior men."
Indiana: meaning "land of Indians."
Iowa: probably from an Indian word meaning "this is the place" or "the Beautiful Land."
Kansas: from a Sioux word meaning "people of the south wind."
Kentucky: from an Iroquoian word "Ken-tah-ten" meaning "land of tomorrow."
Massachusetts: from Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, meaning "at or about the great hill."
Michigan: from Indian word "Michigana" meaning "great or large lake."
Minnesota: from a Dakota Indian word meaning "sky-tinted water."
The state name Utah is from the Ute tribe, meaning "people of the mountains."
Mississippi (state and river): from an Indian word meaning "Father of Waters."
Malibu (California): believed to come from the Chumash Indians.
Manhattan (New York): Algonquian, believed to mean "isolated thing in water."
Milwaukee (Wisconsin): Algonquian, believed to mean "a good spot or place."
Missouri: named after the Missouri Indian tribe. "Missouri" means "town of the large canoes."
Narragansett (Rhode Island): named after the Indian tribe.
Nebraska: from an Oto Indian word meaning "flat water."
Niagara (falls): named after an Iroquoian town, "Ongiaahra."
The name Tahoe (the lake in California/Nevada) is Washo for "big water."
North Dakota: from the Sioux tribe, meaning "allies."
Ohio: from an Iroquoian word meaning "great river."
Oklahoma: from two Choctaw Indian words meaning "red people."
Pensacola (Florida): Choctaw for "hair" and "people."
Roanoke (Virginia): Algonquian for "shell money" (Indian tribes often used shells that were made into beads called wampum, as money).
Saratoga (New York): believed to be Mohawk for "springs (of water) from the hillside."
South Dakota: from the Sioux tribe, meaning "allies."
Sunapee (lake in New Hampshire): Pennacook for "rocky pond."
Tahoe (lake in California/Nevada): Washo for "big water."
Tennessee: of Cherokee origin; the exact meaning is unknown.
Texas: from an Indian word meaning "friends."
Utah: from the Ute tribe, meaning "people of the mountains."
Wisconsin: French corruption of an Indian word whose meaning is disputed.
Wyoming: from the Delaware Indian word, meaning "mountains and valleys alternating"; the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.