26 May 2015

American Indian Place Names

Many places throughout the United States of America take their names from the languages of the indigenous Native American/American Indian tribes that first lived there. Settlements, geographic features, and later town often too the Indian name - or more often, an Anglicized or misspelled version of it.

In my own home state of New Jersey, there are many places that take names from the Delaware, Lenape and other tribal names that were recorded.

Some places just sound strange enough that you would guess they were not English.

Ho-Ho-Kus, pronounced ho-HO-kus, is a borough located in Bergen County first settled in 1698. The meaning behind the town name is unclear. Origin stories vary but on the borough's own website, the most accepted origin is that Ho-Ho-Kus was a contraction of Mehokhokus or Mah-Ho-Ho-Kus, a native Delaware Indian term meaning “the Red Cedar,” as many older native terms beginning in “me” or “mah” lost their first syllables over time. The word is also a native term for running water, is similar to the word “hoccus” meaning fox and sounds similar to “Chihohokies,” the name of a native tribe whose chief lived in the area.

A few other examples:

Cinnaminson: Derived from the Lenni-Lenape word “senamensing” meaning “sweet water.”
Moonachie: Legend is that Moonachie was named after Chief Monaghie, a member of the Iroquois who inhabited the local cedar forests.
Hackensack: Derived from Lenni-Lenape word “Achsinnigeu-haki” meaning “stony ground.”
Paramus: The Lenape language word for the area, Peremessing, meant that it had an abundant population of wild turkey, was anglicized to become the word "Paramus"
Metuchen: Named for the Raritan Indian Chief, Matouchin, who lived in the area in the late 17th century.

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