You Name the Town WHAT?!


Native Names, the Interactive Map. Graphic: Oliver Uberti, National Geographic

A lot of places in the United States have their names derived from Native American words (I'm looking at you, Punxsutawney!). But do you know what they actually mean?

Our friends over at National Geographic have put together this really spiffy interactive map of the United States, with the translated meaning of the towns, lakes, and other localities.

Here are my personal favorites:

- Malibu, CA: It makes a loud noise all the time over there
- Topeka, KS: Good place to dig potatoes
- Chicago, IL: At the skunk place
- Yosemite, CA: They are killers

But the strangest one has got to be Loleta, a small town in Northern California. It means "let's have intercourse."

Of course, the town founders claimed that the name means "pleasant place at the end of the tide water" but not according to William Bright, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Anthropology at UCLA, who wrote in his book Native American Placenames of the United States:

LOLETA (Calif., Humboldt Co.). In 1893, a resident, Mrs. Rufus F. Herrick, chose the present name, supposed to be from the local Wiyot Indian language. The Indian name was in fact katawóio't, but an elderly Indian played a joke on Mrs. Herrick by telling her that the name was hós wiwítak 'let's have intercourse!' - the latter part of which she interpreted in baby-talk fashion as Loleta (Teeter 1958).

Ouch! Link: Blog post | Interactive Map - Thanks Marilyn!

What are your favorites?


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This is strictly anecdotal, but from my travels Oklahoma seems to have to the most cities and towns derived from Native American words. Knowing the history of Oklahoma, or at least the little I do, it certainly makes sense.
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No. Yosemite does NOT mean "They are killers". Yosemite is an Anglo bastardization of various Miwok words. The original name of this valley, according to the Miwok people was "Ahwahnee", place of the gaping mouth. It has yet to be resolved whether it refers to the shape of the valley, or the expression on the faces of visitors upon their first view.

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