Take a trip back in time with Captain Paul Titus as he explores how many of Louisiana’s hotspots got their names.
While talking to one of my avid fishing friends about a very successful fishing trip I made, I began to tease him when he asked where we caught the fish. I told him that we caught a big mess of fish in White Linen Bay.
Like the aggressive trout that soon would grace my dinner table, he took the bait.
“What? Where’s White Linen Bay?” he asked.
Now I set the hook hard.
“It’s just west of Bay Without Timber,” I told him. “You know, we fished it before. It’s out of Port Sulphur.”
I really had him going. He was running deep and strong with the bait.
“You remember,” I said. “The same place where we limited out over the oyster reefs year before last.”
He still had that puzzled look on his face, and again asked, “Where?”
I didn’t want him to shake the hook, so I asked, “Aren’t you bilingual?”
“Heck, no,” he said. “I’m Baptist, why?”
And then we both started laughing.
By then, he realized I was referring to Bay Batiste (White Linen Bay) and Bay Sansbois (Bay Without Timber).
Laughing together, we recalled our previous trip to Bay Batiste, where I had lost an expensive rod and reel while hitting a rogue wave in my boat. Boy, did I cry and moan over the loss of that rig.
As for the names of these bays, one could easily see how Bay Sansbois got its name. The only timber anywhere around the bay is that which is used in man-made camps and dams on the canals that parallel the shoreline of the bay.
As for Bay Batiste, I recall being on this very shallow bay one spring day trying to outrun a squall that turned the water into a white foam.
Remembering back then, it looked almost as if we were running on a large piece of white linen lace, hence White Linen, or Batiste Bay. Heck, if the bay hadn’t already been named, I would have offered that name for it. It fit the occasion.
The names of these two bays caused us both to reflect and to ask each other how and why some of the features were named by the early settlers. We spouted out the obvious ones, like Baton Rouge (Red Stick), LaRose (The Rose), River aux Chenes (Oak River) and Ville Platte (flat town or village).
Then we began to realize there were many, many more names that described Louisiana sites. Some names were obvious, and we knew the translations, but we were both at a loss as how many of the other features got their names.
I became intrigued with the translation, the etymology and history of some of these Louisiana names. I began to keep a log of some of the locations along with their translated names. Whenever time allowed, I researched the name of the location to determine how or why the place was named.
This endeavor made me keenly aware of the many, many different languages used to name our Louisiana cities, rivers, bayous, creeks, bays, lagoons and islands that are located throughout the state. I have grown to really appreciate the unique culture that we as Louisianans have.
Where else in the world can someone mention locations such as Brutus, Ram-Powell, Popeye, Cognac, The Midnight Lump, Lena, Horn Mountain, The Beer Can, The Milk Jug, Virgo, Macaroni, South Diana, Neptune, The Mississippi Canyon, Mosquito Hawk, Genesis, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Spider, Mars, The Black Tanks, The Dope Boat, the Concrete Rigs and Ursa, to name a few, and have the listener know that these are Gulf of Mexico offshore oil/gas fields and platforms and some favorite inshore fishing locations.
Use your imagination, and you can probably see how some of these platforms got their names, especially the “colorful” ones like The Green Monster, The Black Tank(s), The Mardi Gras Rig and The Red Chair. Although the Green Monster is actually no longer painted green, I doubt that it will ever stop being referred to as the Green Monster. I can only guess what happened to name one of the platforms Blood Sweat & Tears.
Where else can you fish and hunt in places such as He Who Screams Like An Eagle Lake or River? Where is that you ask? Why, it’s Calcasieu! It comes from the Atakapan Indian word for “Crying like an Eagle.”
A reminder of our heritage
It was said that there was an Atakapa Indian chief who screamed as an eagle, hence the land occupied by those Indians was called He Who Screams Like As Eagle, or Calcsieu.
And where else can you fish or hunt the Those Who Gather Corn land (Tangipahoa ) or and any one of over 30 bayous named with some form of the word Grand, or by any one of four Bird Islands, five Raccoon Islands, 15 Mud Lakes, or by or near two very different Southwest Passes and who knows how many Arpent Canals?
Not only do we have Native American, or Indian names, but also a lot of geological and topographical features, named by our early French, Spanish, German and English settlers. These names and their meanings have become part of our Louisiana heritage.
While there are certainly Native American “Indian” names that still exist for many locations, there are even more locations named by our first European settlers in their native tongue. These names were phonetically pronounced and spelled to emulate the sound of the Indian names.
Naturally when our early inhabitants referred to these sites, they did so in their own native language. These “corrupted” or translated versions of the Indian names persevered. This is probably only because the Europeans had a written language and used it in their communications. The Indians, for the most part, did not have such a means of communication. Their stories and histories were passed down verbally.
It was the European settlers who drew the maps and wrote letters and legal documents about the different locations, features and the Native American inhabitants. When they did so, they naturally used these names as spoken and written in their own language, trying to make their words sound like the Indian words did.
A story to tell
I found that most of these names had a story to tell. During my task of solving some of the GPS position requests for my monthly column in Louisiana Sportsman, I was afforded the opportunity to explore some of these many, many names. In doing my investigations, I found that some locations were obviously named for a prominent feature, event or individual, while others, for whatever reason, are totally lost to history.
Some of these locations were named after a person or a family name that founded or lived in the area, such as Wilkinson Canal or Jacks Canal; many more locations were named as our ancestors saw the site or how it related to a particular event, characteristic or topography.
As an example, Bayou Sauvage meaning Untamed or Wild Bayou was used as a small-craft passage into New Orleans. It allowed the small boats to avoid the dangerous Mississippi River. Sometimes, the name was used to refer to the area as the Bayou of the Savages. No doubt, there were Indians in the area as there is an Indian burial ground on Oak Island that was alongside the bayou.
I have even found that some maps and archive information use different names for the same location. Some maps have an Oak River while others list the same feature as River aux Chenes, and some publications list both the English version and the translated name for the feature. Cuatro Caballo Lake is often referred to as Four Horse Lake on many maps, as are two others that immediately come to mind — Last Island (Isles Dernieres) and Four Bayou Pass (Quatre Bayou Pass).
Generally you will find English names like Indian Village, Vincent’s Landing, Persimmon Slough (Creek), Madden Creek, The Vale Hill, Muddy Bayou, Coon Gully and Driskill Mountain throughout the state. The Native American names or corruptions of those names are also scattered throughout the entire state, and those with French and Spanish names are usually prominent in the southern and Acadian parts of the state.
Yes, there are exceptions. I know there is a Bayou Lafourche (The Forked Bayou) in Caldwell Parish, but there are exceptions to everything.
If this sparked your interest, then continue on, as I have complied a novice’s translation and interpretation of what some of the different names are for these uniquely Louisiana features. I am surely not a linguist or a competent etymologist, and those who are may find some minor errors, but I hope all will enjoy reading this as much as I did researching it.
So, let’s take a trip. Come with me on a voyage in time as well as to some of these Louisiana places. Put yourself in the shoes of our ancestors, return with me to the days of yesteryear and imagine yourself at these locations. See if you can visualize what our forefathers saw or what they heard to make them give these places the names they have today.
The journey begins
Let’s start with some of the Native American names. Remember that many of these have been corrupted to sound similar to or like words in English, French, Spanish, German or even other Indian words as there was not one common Indian language among the Native Americans who lived in the region. These names were corrupted by one tribe describing another tribe in their own tribal language.
Louisiana Indian Name Definitions
Abita — Source of Water, or Springs, Fountain from the Choctaw word Ibetap.
Acadia — Place of Abundance. Thought to be from Micmac Indians in Canada the word “acade,” meaning a place where there is abundance.
Acolapissa (an Indian tribe) — Those Who See and Hear, “The Spies.”
Adois (Adai) — Brushwood, from the Caddio language.
Alabama — Plant Gatherers, from the Choctaw word alba for vegetation; to gather.
Apalachee (an Indian tribe) — the Apalachee are originally from what is now Florida.
Atchafalaya River — Long River, from the Choctaw words hacha meaning river and falaia for long.
Attakapas or Atakapa — Man Eaters, Choctaw again; some reported there were Indians in the area who practiced cannibalism on their enemies.
Avoyelles — People of the Rocks; mainly flint-type stones, used in fire-starting and firearms of that day, in reference to a Native American nation that lived in the area.
Bayou — A Small, Peaceful River; from the Choctaw word for stream, river or lake, which is bayuk or bayok.
Bayou Bushley — Cut Off Bayou; from the Choctaw language.
Bayou Chicot — Sluggish Stream; from the Choctaw bayok for stream and the French spelling of the Choctaw word chicot for sluggish.
Bayou Goula, Bayogoula (an Indian tribe) — the River People Bayou; the hunting territory and village site of the Bayogoula Indians situated near the present-day town of Bayou Goula. Bayogola means “Bayou People.” They called themselves Ischenoce, which means “Ours.”
Bayou Louis — Black Bayou; from the Choctaw lusa, meaning black.
Bistineau — Big Broth in the Caddo Indian language, as describing a foam on the lake or bayou.
Bogalusa — Black Creek; from the Choctow words bok or bog for creek and lusa for black.
Bogue Chitto — Large Stream or Creek, as defined by the Choctaw Indians.
Bogue Falaya — Long River, similar to Atchafalaya.
Bonfouca — Friendly People Place; a corruption of Choctaw, Spanish and Creole French for the name of a friendly Choctaw chief.
Caddo (an Indian tribe) — Great Chiefs or True Chiefs; from Kadohadacho. The Caddo were made up of five tribes — the Adai, Doustioni, Natchitouches, Ouachita and Yatasi.
Cahoula — Beloved Water; a corruption of Catahoula.
Calcasieu — He Who Screams Like An Eagle; from the Atakapan Indian word for “Crying like an Eagle.”
Castine Bayou — Flea Bayou; from the Choctaw kashiti meaning flea.
Catahoula — Beloved Lake; from Choctaw okhata, meaning lake and hullo meaning beloved.
Catalpa — Winged Head, referring to the blossoms of the catalpa tree.
Cataouatche (an Indian tribe) — Believed to be a corruption of cata in Choctaw for lake and Ouache for a tribal name.
Chacahoula — Beloved Home from the Choctaw chuka, for home and hullo, meaning beloved.
Chakanina — Place of Crying; from the Caddo language. It was a lake that was near the area where the Red and Mississippi once joined.
Chaoui — Raccoon (in a corrupted form).
Chawasha (an Indian tribe) — Raccoon Place; from the Choctaw language.
Chappepeela — Hurricane River; from the Choctaw hacha, for river and apeli for hurricane.
Chickima — Good; from the Choctaw language achukma, meaning good.
Chinchuba — Alligator; from the Choctaw hachunchuba.
Chipola — Feast; corrupted from the Choctaw word chepulli.
Chitimacha (an Indian tribe) — Originally lived on Grand Lake from Charenton to Bayou Portage.
Choctaw — Flat; an Indian tribe that was predominant in South Louisiana. Believed to have been so named because they flattened the heads of their infants.
Choupique — Mud Fish.
Chula — fox; from the Choctaw word chula. There was also a Yazoo Indian tribe called Chula.
Colapissa — Those Who Hear and See; corrupted from the Choctaw okla, meaning people, and pisa, meaning see. Figuratively translated as Spies.
Coochie — Little Great Water; believed to be corrupted from the Choctaw word Withlacoochee, meaning Water of the Little Great River
Coushatta — White Reed Brake; believed to be a corruption of the Choctaw word kusha, meaning reed or reed-brake, and hata, meaning white. It was referring to a tribe living near the reed-brake. A separate belief holds that it means Black Haired, which is a corruption of Koasatie.
Fanilusa — Black Squirrel; from the Choctaw words fani and Lusa, meaning Squirrel and Black.
Genesse — Beautiful valley; from the Iroquois Indian word gen-nis-he-yo. Believed given to the area by Arthur Loranger, a Canadian who lived near Fall Brook, New York, near the Iroquois tribe and later moved to Louisiana. He was president of the Genesse Lumber Co.
Goula — River People.
Houma (an Indian tribe) — Red. The Houma Indians lived from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Angola. The tribal symbol was the red crawfish. Believed taken from the Choctaw word humma or homma, meaning red. It is alleged that the Houma Indians wore red leggings and moccasins.
Istrouma — Red Pole; believed to be corrupted from the Choctaw iti hamma, meaning red pole. A boundary marker between the Houmas and Bayougoulas Indian tribes. Called Baton Rouge by the French.
Keatchie — Panther; corrupted from the Caddoan Indian language word Kishi, meaning panther.
Kisatchie — Reed River or Long Cane; from the Choctaw “kusha” meaning reed and “hacha” meaning river.
Louis — Black; a corrupted form of the word lusa in Choctaw language.
Manchac — Rear Entrance or Short Cut; from the original Mobilian word “imashaka” and the Choctaw word ashaka, meaning behind or rear.
Mermentau — corrupted from an Atakapa name of a chief named Nementou.
Mississippi River — a Great River; Algonquian Indian name “misi” for great and “sipi” for water.
Mugulash (an Indian tribe) — People of the Other Side; Mugulash is a corruption of the Choctaw name Imongolosha.
Natchitoches — Paw Paw or Chinquapin Nut Eaters; Chinquapin is a variety of scrubby chestnut.
Natalbany — Only Bears; from Choctaw, “nita” means bear and “bano” meaning “only.” There was reported to be a dense bear population in the area at one time, and a particular site was referred to as the Bear Camp.
Natchez — another name lost to history but believed to mean Hurrying Man, Hurrying Warrior or Away From in the Muskhogean Indian language.
Nottoway — Rattle Snakes; corrupted from nadowa in the Virginia Algonquian Indian language. Given to a plantation by John Randolph whose family was from Virginia.
Okaloosa — Black Water; from the Choctaw words oka, meaning water, and lusa, meaning black.
Opelousas (Okelousa, an Indian tribe) — Black Hair or Black Skull; believed derived from two lakes in the area they occupied. These lakes appeared black from the quantity of black leaves along the lakeshores.
Osca Bay — In the Cane; corrupted from the Choctaw language words oski, meaning cane, and abeha, meaning to be in.
Ouachita — Silver Sparkling Water, Good Hunting Grounds or Cow River People, depending on the dialect.
Panola — Cotton in the Choctaw language.
Plaquemine — Persimmon; from the Mobilian Indian word piakimin.
Ponchatoula — Falling Hair; Spanish corruption of the Choctaw words pashi for hair and itula for Falling, it is referring to the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.
Poosheapatope Creek — Sandy Bottom Creek; from the Choctaw words pushi, meaning flour meal, and patapo, meaning bed.
Quinapisa (an Indian tribe) — Those Who See. The tribe lived near present-day Hahnville on the Mississippi River all the way down to the mouth of the river.
Santa Barb — Snake Creek; corrupted from Choctaw words Sinti bok, meaning snake creek.
Shongaloo — Cypress Tree; from Shankolo in the Choctaw language.
Talisheek — Gravel or Pebbles; corrupted from the Choctaw word talushik, meaning gravel or pebbles.
Talla Bena — Palmetto Camp; corrupted from the Choctaw words tala, meaning palmetto, and abina, meaning camp.
Tallulah — Leaping Water in the Choctaw language.
Tangipahoa — Corn Gatherers or Corncob People.
Tchefuncte — chestnut or chinquapin; a variety of scrubby chestnut whose nuts were used for food.
Tchoupitoulas — An extinct Indian tribe, once thought to be named Chapitoulas.
Tickfaw — Piney Rest in Choctaw from the words tiak for pine and foha for rest.
Tioga — Anything Between Two Others; from the Iroquois language, or At the Forks of Rivers from the word Indian word Teihohogen.
Tunica (an Indian tribe) — The Tunica were by far the best traders around. They were three tribes of Natchez speakers. The two Louisiana-based tribes were the Taensa and the Avoyel. The Natchez were mainly in what is now Mississippi.
Whiskey Chitto Creek — Big Cane Creek. The Choctaw words were uski for cane and chito for large. I can see how uski would be misunderstood and written as Whiskey.
Winona — First Born in Dakota Indian language.
Yupon — Tree or Shrub; usually an evergreen, from the Catawba Indian word “yopun” or “yop,” meaning shrub.
Washa (an Indian tribe) — “Hunting Place or Good Hunting Place.”