What’s in a name?
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
published in Tallahassee Democrat, 5/26/15
The Tallahassee region’s Native American history is revealed in the many names of its rivers, lakes and the name of the Capital City itself. According to the book, Florida Place Names of Indian Origin by William A. Read, the name Tallahassee comes from the Muscogee Creek Indians who came here after the Apalachee were either killed or driven off in 1704. Talwa means “town” and hasi means “old,” hence “Old Town.” The Muscogee Creek people who arrived in the 1700s and early 1800s were aware of the Apalachee Indians before them, so they knew the area already had a long human history.
“Wakulla,” as in Wakulla Springs, is often referred to as meaning “mysterious waters.” Some believe the word was originally from the Timucuan language and its true meaning was lost. Read believes the name is most likely from the Muscogee word Wakola, meaning loon. Two species of loons winter in Florida. Native Muscogee speakers have also pointed out that “Wakulla” is similar to the Muscogee word for whippoorwill, water oak and cow pasture, so we may never know for sure. Like many of Florida’s Native American place names, they were highly anglicized in their spelling, so their true interpretations are sometimes debated.
“Sopchoppy” has often been a fun name for people to pronounce and ponder. Read says the word was corrupted from the word “Lockchoppee,” which appears on an 1856 map. Lockchoppe in the Muscogee language means “red oak.”
“Econfina,” as in the Econfina River in Taylor County (and there is also Econfina Creek a hundred miles west of Tallahassee), is derived from the Muscogee word ikana, meaning “earth,” and fina, meaning “footlog” or “bridge.” Thus, the full name means “earth bridge” or “natural bridge.” Evidently, there is a natural bridge 15 miles upstream from the river’s mouth that blocks passage.
“Ochlockonee,” as in the Ochlockonee River bordering Leon County to the west, is derived from a Muscogee dialect known as Hitchiti. Oki means “water” and lani or lakni means “yellow.” Thus, we have “yellow water.” Another Tallahassee landmark, Welaunee Plantation, means the same thing in Muscogee — “yellow water.”
Most street names in the Tallahassee neighborhood of Indian Head Acres bear Muscogee names for numbers while others, such as Heechee Nene means “Tobacco Trail” and Chuli Nene likely means “Pine Trail.” Nene means trail.
The meaning of some area place names have been lost to time. Such is the case of “Wacissa.” It is believed to be a Timucuan Indian word, but its meaning has been lost. “Aucilla,” the name of a neighboring stream, may have been a Timucuan town name, but its meaning has also been lost.
These names and more around our area reveal some of the lasting influence of early Native American inhabitants.
Doug Alderson is the author of several books, including Wild Florida Adventures and The Great Florida Seminole Trail .