From the earliest contact between native people and those who came to the “New World” there has been an exchange of foods, trade goods, animals, lifeway skills, and languages! The language exchange went both ways. Native Canadian groups adopted French terms still in use, and southwestern groups in what is now the U.S. borrowed numerous Spanish terms. Russian words influenced the Yupik and Athabaskan. Today, thousands of place names across North America have Indian origins—as do hundreds of everyday English words.
Many of these “loan words” are nouns from the Algonquian languages (Lenape is a part of that language group) that were once widespread along the Atlantic coast. When the English, encountered unfamiliar plants and animals—among them moose, opossum, and skunk—they borrowed Indian terms to name them, just as the Germans and other early Europeans did. Pronunciations generally changed, and sometimes the newcomers shortened words they found difficult; for instance, “pocohiquara” became “hickory.” You will find Lenape words in the lists below.
Some U.S. English Words with Native Origins
anorak from the Greenlandic Inuit “annoraq”
bayou from the Choctaw “bayuk”
chipmunk rom the Ojibwa “ajidamoon,” red squirrel
hickory from the Virginia Algonquian “pocohiquara”
hominy from the Virginia Algonquian “uskatahomen”
igloo from the Canadian Inuit “iglu,” house
kayak from the Alaskan Yupik “qayaq”
Lennapeuhoksen became moccasin from the Lenape
moose from the Eastern Abenaki “mos”
pecan from the Illinois “pakani”
powwow from the Lenape “powwawn,” healer
quahog from the Narragansett “poquauhock”
squash from the Narragansett “askutasquash”
succotash from the Narragansett “msickquatash,” boiled corn
tepee from the Sioux “tipi,” dwelling
toboggan from the Micmac “topaghan”
tomahawk from the Lenape “tamahíkan”
totem from the Ojibwa “nindoodem,” my totem
wampum from the Lenape “wampumpeak” a string of white shell beads
wigwam from the Lenape “wik’wam”
How many more words can you find on your own?
Read Indian Place Names in Pennsylvania and Indian Place Names in New Jersey to discover the many local Native place names we use everyday!
U.S. States and Place Names
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.”
Arkansas from the Quapaw Indians.
Chicago (Illinois): Algonquian for “garlic field” Or “Skunk Place.”
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.”
Mississippi: from an Indian word meaning “Father of Waters.”
Malibu (California): believed to come from the Chumash Indians.
Manhattan (New York): Lenape, believed to mean “large island 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.”
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.”
Podunk, meant to describe a insignificant town out in the middle of nowhere, comes from a Natick Indian word meaning “swampy place.”
Roanoke (Virginia): Algonquian for “shell place” (Indian tribes often used shells that were made into beads called wampum, as jewelry, and memory belts, like the Lenape/Penn treaty belt).
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 Lenape word, meaning “mountains and valleys alternating”; the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.
Taken in part from: O Brave New Words! Native American Loanwords in Current English, by Charles L. Cutler.