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A Guide to Native American Place Names in the North Carolina Mountains

A Guide to Native American Place Names in the North Carolina Mountains


Western North Carolina has a very ancient and complex history.  Perhaps because of its multiplicity of valleys, separated by high mountains, many indigenous peoples have lived there, often at the same time.  These peoples include the Uchee, Southern Arawaks, Orinoco River Arawaks, Panoans from eastern Peru, Taino Arawaks, Itza Mayas, Shawnees, Muskogee Creeks, Sephardic Jews, Cherokees and probably many others whose names for places have been lost for all time.  Very few of the place names, even on the Cherokee Reservation, are true Cherokee words.  It is obvious that they arrived very recently to the region . . . after the Sephardic Jews.

Of course, there are some Cherokee place names in Western North Carolina, but they are rare and generally apply to relatively small features on the landscape or intimate locations. Thus, there are several mountains, hills, creeks, branches and springs with true Cherokee names in the Southern Highlands, but very, very few rivers.  Yet even this fact is suspect.  Yonah (Bear) Mountain in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia was given its Cherokee name at least a decade after the Cherokees were gone.  Until then, the mountain was shown on official maps as being named the Itsate Creek word for bear,  Nocosee . . . from which the Nacoochee Valley’s name was derived.

Much more common, though, are English and Cherokee pronunciations of words from other indigenous languages. A legion of “Cherokee Place Name” booklets and web sites have manipulated these words until they are similar to some Cherokee syllables.  Rarely do these websites tell you the actual Cherokee syllables that they substituted for the original word.  More often than not, you cannot find their definitions of words in an official Cherokee dictionary.

As you will see in the following glossary,  the translations of most of North Carolina’s place names were very straight forward and taken from published Creek, Itza Maya, Panoan, Middle Arawak, Taino-Arawak or Southern Arawak dictionaries.  They all “make sense.”   Nantahala (River Gorge) means “jumping water” in Southern Arawak.  Unicoi (Trail) means “trade path along a stream or river” in Creek.  Chiaha IS the Itza Maya word for Salvia River . . . and the chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition described large fields of salvia (also called Chia as in Chia Pet) being cultivated along the rivers leading to the town named I-Chiaha (Capital of the province of Chiaha in Itza Maya.)  There was no need for guessing and fudging as is the case with people trying to interpret these place names as Cherokee words.

There is also a profound tendency for such researchers to equate an Anglicized word to some Cherokee syllables.  It is quite common to see a two or three syllable Native American place name expounded into an entire sentence of Cherokee words.  Their logic is that since the Cherokees have been in North Carolina for 10,000 years, the word has to be Cherokee, so it is okay to fudge a bit.  They also don’t consider the possibility of the word being from another language of the Americas.

A good example is the town of Satipo in Graham County, NC that was visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567. It is a Panoan word from Eastern Peru, meaning “Colonists – Place of.”  Satipo is also the name of a city and province in eastern Peru, plus formerly, the capital of a powerful province on the Satila River and St. Andrews Sound in Southeast Georgia that spoke a Peruvian language  – Panoan.

By 1684 in the Jean Baptiste Franquelin Map, Satipo had been occupied by Arawaks from northern South America and named Satikoa.  The Southern Arawak equivalent of this word is Satika or Satike. The meaning of that word in both language groups is Colonists-People. 

The town was absorbed by the Cherokees around 1700.  From then on we see various Cherokee-nized and Anglicized versions of the word.  Closer to the original word is Sitikoa, Sitiko-yi, Setiko-yi and Stiko-yi.  These Cherokee words were Anglicized to Citigo and Stecoah.  So, today several web sites in Graham County, NC state, “Stecoah (Stika’ YI) meaning little place Mountain Peak.”   The authors have no clue that the original name of the town was Satipo then later, Satikoa.

“Yi”  means “place” in Cherokee, but the other word does not mean either little or mountain.  The same documents tell us that Talula means “Waterfall” in Cherokee.  The Cherokee words for waterfall are entirely different.  Talula means “a district administration town” or one mound town in Creek.  In fact, there is a single pyramidal mound on Talula Road in Graham County.  So beware, when you use a tourist brochure or website for researching a Western North Carolina place name!


  1. Apalache-Creeks, Arawaks and Uchees could pronounce the letter R in a manner similar to a European R.  Mayas, Muskogee Creeks, Itsate Creeks and early Cherokees pronounced the letter like a rolled letter L.
  2. All words ending with ti, te or tee have an Itza Maya-Itsate Creek suffix meaning “people or tribe.”
  3. All words ending with se, si, see or chee have a Muskogean suffix meaning “descendants of.” This suffix came from northeastern and east central Mexico.
  4. All words ending in ki, ke, gi or gee have a Southern Arawak, Muskogee-Creek, Cherokee or Southern Shawnee suffix meaning “people or tribe.” It originated in Ecuador, Northern Peru and the western Amazon Basin. That’s right . . . the Cherokees, Southern Shawnee and Muskogee Creeks have the same suffix for “people or one tribe.”   That is how the People of One Fire figured out that the Muskogee language originated in the region between Franklin, NC and Asheville, NC.
  5. The Itza Mayas and Itsate Creeks put an E or I sound in front of a proper noun to mean “principal”. Thus the town Ichiaha was the capital of the province of Chiaha. Echota was the capital of the province of Chota and ultimately the short-lived Cherokee Nation in Northwest Georgia.
  6. All words ending in koa, coa or qua are of Southern Arawak origin. This suffix means “people or tribe”. There were many tribes in Southeast Georgia and Southern Florida that spoke this language. The Timucua Language of northeastern Florida was Middle Arawak and originated on the Orinoco River of Venezuela.
  7. In the earliest maps of the Cherokees (1721-1738) there are several Middle Cherokee towns that have o or oe at the end. This is a Southern Arawak suffix that originated in the western Amazon Basin. It has the same meaning as the I or E sound that precedes Itza Maya words. It states that this is the most important town of that name or a capital.  For example, there were several villages with the root name, Itsa in Franklin County, NC and Rabun County, GA. Itsa is pronounced Ĭt : jzhă – both in Maya and Creek. The largest one was named Itsao and written down by Colonel William Bartram as Etcheo.
  8. The Mayas and Itsate Creeks had at least four S sounds, which have been transcribed by Cherokee and English speakers in many different ways, such as chi, shi, che, she, je, tsi, tsh, tch, X and ze. The Mayas, Apalache-Creeks and Itsate-Creeks pronounced a T sound similar to that of Europeans, but Cherokees, Muskogee-Creeks and Southern Shawnees pronounce a T more like a D.   Thus, English speakers will often write down a Muskogee or Cherokee T as a D.



Alarka: Probably Southern Arawak, because it does not seem to have a meaning in Cherokee, Creek or Maya.  There is no R sound in Maya and  Muskogean languages.     The name is associated with several creeks in North Carolina and Georgia.

Apalache: Panoan from Eastern Peru1 (Aparashi) Meaning: Descendants of People from the Ocean;

This was a powerful proto-Creek kingdom that once controlled all the territory from Southwestern Virginia to the mouth of the Apalachicola River in Florida.  Their cultural territory was the equivalent to the Lamar, Dallas, Mouse Creek and Pisgah Culture names created by archaeologists, which refer to the Late Mississippian and Early Colonial Period peoples of that vast region.

*The Apalache elite lived in stone houses on log-or-stone-walled terraces on the sides of mountains and hills.  Apparently, most of the Apalache People were wiped out by plagues and slave raids in the late 1600s. They are last mentioned on a 1701 French map.  The Coweta Creeks are descended from an Apalache town on the fringe of the province that survived extermination.

Apalachee:  Anglicization of a name given to an advanced people in the Florida Panhandle by the Spanish.  These people called themselves, Tulahalwasi, (Tallahasse) which means “Descendants of Highland Towns.”

Apalachen: Panoan from Eastern Peru1 (Aparashen)  Meaning: Plural of Apalache.

Appalachian Mountains: (See Apalachen)

Anonymous explorers learned the Apalache language of North Georgia.  Afterward some mapmakers put “Apalachen” over present day North Georgia, which meant “The Apalaches.” Originally, this term only referred to the North Georgia Mountains, where the Apalache People had their home provinces.  

Apalachete: Hybrid Panoan-Itza Maya (Aparashite) Meaning= Apalache People This label is seen on late 17th century maps for the occupants of extreme western North Carolina and North Georgia.

Arkaqua:  Southern Arawak Meaning=Arka People   There are streams and communities by this name in extreme western North Carolina and Union County, GA.

Calimako or Kalimako:  Itza Maya (Kalle Mako) Meaning=House or Palace of the King.  Name of the Tennessee River used by Cherokees and Kusate-Creeks until white settlers changed the river’s name to Tennessee (See Tanasi).

Canos or Conos: Panoan-Peruvian-Creek (Kvnos or Kvnas) Meaning=An very important Pre-Inca, Pre-Moche city state in Peru; Also, a very important town and province in the Blue Ridge Foothills that was visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567.  (See Quanasee.)  The province of Canos in Peru was overrun by a Moche city state a few years before Swift Creek pottery appeared in Georgia.  However, “Swift Creek” style stamped pottery was being made for several centuries prior to its Georgia debut in Peru.

Canosee or Conosee:  Hybrid Panoan-Muskogean  Meaning=Descendants of Kanos.  A town visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567 on the route to Chiaha.  It is very likely that the town was at the Mississippian archaeological site that is next to the Cherokee village of Quanasee.  (See Quanasee.)

Cataloochee:  Hybrid Itza Maya and Muskogean (Katalvsi) Meaning=Descendants of Catalou.  Catalou probably means “Place of the Crown . . . a capital.” Today, Cataloochee is a ridge overlooking the Maggie Valley in Haywood County, NC.  Formerly, it was the name of an ethnic group living in the Maggie Valley.  “Cherokee” researchers have come up with many alternative explanations of Cataloochee that forget the existence of an earlier town to the west named Catalou.

In the 1684 Franquelin Map, the towns of Catalou, Chalaka and Talikoa were located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers.

Catawba: Ethnicity=Itza Maya/Itsate Creek (Katvpa or Katawpa) Meaning: Place of the Crown; A river in North Carolina; A federally recognized Native American tribe.

Note: Most academicians do not realize that the Kataapa were a branch of the Creek Indians, living in the region between Atlanta and Gainesville, GA.  Apparently, some Kataapa established a colony in the Carolinas with Siouan Commoners.  During the 1700s, the hybrid Siouan language of the Kataapa Commoners in the Carolinas came to be their only language, when there were only a couple hundred survivors.  The Katapa in Georgia eventually ended up on the Lower Chattahoochee River.

Chalohuma: Itsate-Creek (same word) Meaning Red Fox; A Native American town visited by Captain Juan Pardo in Graham County, NC.

Chatuge or Chattooga: Ethnicity=Muskogee-Creek4 (Chata-gi)  Meaning=Red People; A reservoir in the vicinity of Hiawasee, GA and Hayesville, NC; A river that separates Georgia from South Carolina.

Chalaque  (See Chiloki or Chiliki)  This is a misspelling by one of De Soto Chroniclers. The Creeks never used a similar word for the Cherokees until after white men started calling them by that name. Until then, the Creeks called the Cherokees, Kofitachete, which means “Mixed Race People.”  To this day, all Southeastern tribes, except the Creeks, use words for the Cherokees that mean “Cave Dwellers.”

Chauga:  Muskogee-Creek (Cvka) Meaning=Black Locust; Name of 18th century Cherokee villages in Jackson County, NC and Oconee County, SC.

Cheoah: Ethnicity=Itza Maya (Chiaha) Meaning=Salvia River; The chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition stated that there were large fields of salvia being cultivated along the rivers leading to the town of Chiaha. The people of Chiaha maintained hives of Central American honey bees that were only domesticated by the Mayas.

Chiliki or Chiloki: Totonac, Itza Maya & Creek.  Meaning=primitive people

This was originally the word in Totonac (Mexico) for a Chichimec barbarian.  Itza Mayas and later, the Creeks, used the term to describe hunter & gatherer peoples.  It appears in the De Soto Chronicles when the Spaniards are passing through a province in the South Carolina Piedmont, occupied by people who did not grow corn, but apparently cultivated sweet potatoes. They wore very little clothing.  This was undoubtedly an Arawak or Pre-Arawak people from Florida, not the ethnic Cherokees.  Later maps show them in Southeast Georgia. 

Chiska: Panoan from Eastern Peru (same word) Meaning=Bird.

Both in the Southern Appalachians and in Peru, the Chiska were described as fierce warriors, who wore long scraggily hair and conical woven hats.  Before heading out to war, they painted black patterns on their faces that mimicked a Black Hawk. Both in South American and North America the Chiska lived in man-made caves, dug from the sides of hills and mountains.

Chisqua: Cherokee Meaning=bird

Chote or Chota: Tabasco Maya (Cho’i’te)  Meaning: Language spoken by branch of Itza Mayas in Tabasco State, Mexico, who were skilled mariners. Names of several Native American villages in the Southern Appalachians, many of whom were conquered by the Cherokees.

Citigo (See Satipo and Satikoa) – Anglicization of Native American towns in Graham County, NC and Monroe County, Tennessee.

Cohutta:  French (Cohuita) Meaning=Muskogee-Creek Indians.  Originally the mountains in western Cherokee County, NC,  Polk County, TN, Murray County, GA, Fannin County, GA, Gilmer County, GA, eastern Gordon County, GA and eastern Bartow County, GA.   The French labeled the mountains north of these mountains, Les Montes Cusatees or Upper Creek Mountains and those in North Carolina, the Cherokee Mountains.

British Mapmakers dropped the “i” in Cohuita after the British gained control of NW Georgia in 1763.  Later generations of frontiersmen and Cherokees created elaborate explanations of how Cohutta was a Cherokee word. However, the name Cohuita appears over these mountains a 100 years before the Cherokees lived there.

Conesaga or Conesagua: Itsate Creek (Kones – sawa) Meaning:  Hognose Skunk; a Shawnee Clan that had Itsate Creek elite.

Conestee or Conastee: Itsate-Creek2 (Konas-te) Meaning=Descendants of Conas; Conas was an important province near the headwaters of the Savannah River; Also, an important Pre-Inca province in Peru, where the Conibo People lived.

Coosa: Panoan from Peru, Cusabo and Upper Creek (Kvsa in Creek) Original Meaning in Peru=Strong, elite. Modern Meaning=A major branch of the Upper Creek People; A major river in NW Georgia and Alabama. *Kusa or Kusabo was the name of Panoan immigrants, living along the coast of southern South Carolina.  Some of these Kusa established a powerful province, whose capital was in Northwest Georgia.  The territory of this province eventually extended almost 400 miles across and included Northwest Georgia, western North Carolina, Southeastern Tennessee and Northeastern Alabama.

Cowee: Ethnicity= Itsate Creek (Kowi) – Meaning = Mountain Lion; Name of a mound, creek and former village site in Macon and Jackson Counties, NC.

Coweeta or Coweta: Ethnicity= Itsate-Creek (Kowite)  then Muskogee-Creek (Koweta) – Meaning=Mountain Lion People;  A major division of Creek Confederacy and the actual name of the Capital of the Creek Confederacy.

This is the name of a creek, mound and archaeological site about one mile from the Georgia State Line in Macon County, NC.  Despite having an obvious Creek name, North Carolina archaeologists label this Mississippian archaeological site, Cherokee and it has been declared a Cherokee Sacred Site by the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

Cullasee: Panoan/Apalache Creek2 (Kurosi) Meaning= Descendant of Kura, descendants of Culla. In 1721, the Culasee were living in the vicinity of Franklin, NC plus Dillard and Clayton, GA, but by the mid-1700s were on the Chattahoochee River in southwestern Alabama.

Cullasaja :  Apalache-Panoan (Cullasee-saja)  Meaning: Culasee Waterfall

This is a case where the Cherokees interpreted a foreign word into a different meaning. Wikipedia etymology – “Several former Cherokee towns were located along the Cullasaja River. The town of Ellijay was on Ellijay Creek, a tributary of Cullasaja River. Several Cherokee towns were called Kulsetsiyi (or Sugartown), abbreviated Kulsetsi, including one on Cullasaja River near Ellijay Creek. “Cullasaja” is a variant spelling of the Cherokee town name “Kulsetsi”. This Cherokee town’s name is also the origin of the name “Sugar Fork”.

Cullowhee:  Panoan/Apalache Creek1 with Totonac-Itzate suffix for “place of” or “to make.” (Kuro-hi)  Meaning: Tribe – Place of.  Curo or Culla was apparently the name or part of the name of a large town with at least three mounds, where Western North Carolina University is located today.

Curahee: Panoan/Apalache Creek1 with Itza Maya-Totonac suffix for “place of” or “to make” (Kuro-hi) Curahee Mountain is located in Stevens County, GA but is actually the same word as Cullawhee. The Cullasee Creeks lived near and on this mountain.

Echota:  (See Chota) Itza Maya5 (Principal town named Chota)

Enota:   Itsate-Creek2 (Eno-te) and Muskogee-Creek (Enotaw)  Meaning=Eno People.   The Eno People of South Carolina were consummate traders.  They established trading colonies in Cherokee County, NC and Northeast Georgia.

Etowah: Muskogee Creek/Itsate Creek/Itza Maya (Itsate=Etula, Muskogee=Etalwa) Meaning=Principal Town; Etowah Mounds in NW Georgia;  A town near Hendersonville, NC.

Hightower: (See Etowah)  Anglicization of Etowah. Names of creeks in Western North Carolina and North Georgia

Hiwasee: Itsate-Creek3 (Hiwasi) Meaning=Offspring of a viper; evidently referring to the serpentine path of the river or the many copperhead snakes that live on its rocks. The river’s name might also be derived from Hiwalsi, which means “Highlanders.”

Itsapa:  Itza Maya and Itsate Creek (same word) Meaning=Place of the Itza.   Itza and Creek name for the region around Brasstown Bald Mountain in Georgia and North Carolina. (See Itsayi)

Itsate:  Itza Maya2 (same word) Meaning=Corn Tamale People . . .  name that the Itza Mayas and Hitchiti Creek Indians called themselves.  Name of several Native American towns in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Itsa-yi: Hybrid Maya and Cherokee  Meaning=Place of the Itza Mayas.  This is the name that the Cherokees called the Itsate Creek province of Itsapa.  Early 19th century Protestant missionaries, using a faulty dictionary, translated this word as the Cherokee word for brass.  English language maps then began to label a town in this region, Brasstown, and ultimately named the nearby mountain, Brasstown Bald.

Jocasee: Ethnicity: Sokee/Miccosukee Creek2 (Zokasi) Meaning=Descendants of the Zoque; a major tribe in the Blue Ridge Foothills with many Mesoamerican traits. The pronunciation of the Zoque in the Southeast and the Zoque in Mexico are the same.  They are probably the same ethnic group.

Kanahitee or Konahitee: Itsate-Creek2 (Kanahiti) Meaning: Mound building People; a creek in Cherokee County, NC plus Union and Towns Counties, GA.

Kitani or Ani-kitani: Alabama (Kitani) Meaning=sorcerer or priest, who magically starts temple fire. According to Cherokee tradition, the Ani-Kitani or Fire Priest Clan became abusive and so were exterminated in a rebellion by ethnic Cherokees.

Kituwa or Kituwah: Alabama (Kituwa) Meaning=Sacred Fire.  The name of one of the original Cherokee towns in the North Carolina Mountains.

Nantahala:  Southern Arawak. Meaning=Jumping Water, ie. rapids on a river.  The Ashininka adjective “nanta” is also used to describe the appearance of a school of fish jumping out of the water.  A famous gorge with many rapids and waterfalls in Swain County, NC.

Nikasee, Nikwasee or Niquasee:  Itsate-Creek and Koasati-Creek (Nikasi)  Meaning=Bear Cub.  Cherokee name of a mound in Downtown Franklin, NC. Name of former Cherokee town at that location.

Oconaluftee: Itsate Creek2 (Okone – lufte) Meaning: Oconee People cut off: A river on the Cherokee Reservation; The Oconee were a major division of the Creek Confederacy:

The term “cut off” was a term used in the 1700s to mean a village that had been massacred and completely destroyed.  The Oconaluftee River begins in the Great Smoky Mountains and flows through the heart of the Cherokee Reservation before joining the Tuckasegee River in Swain County, NC.  The ruins of a large Oconee Creek town, including a large five-sided mound formerly existed in the Birdtown Community of the reservation until the 1980s.  It was developed into commercial and residential uses, plus the main sewage treatment plant for the reservation.

Quanasee: Cherokee-nization of Itsate-Creek (Konasi)   Meaning=Descendants of Konas, a major town in the Blue Ridge Foothills. (See Conas.)

Saluda: Itsate-Creek (Suala-te) Meaning=Buzzard People. This is the Creek name for a branch of the Shawnee, called the Xuale, whose main concentration of villages were in northern West Virginia.  Apparently, they had a colony in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina; A town in North Carolina today; Also, a river in South Carolina.

Santeetlah: (See Satikoa) Hybrid Panoan-Tamauli (Sante-tli) Meaning=Colonist People Comment: The Sati people lived along the Satilla River in Georgia and the Santee River in South Carolina.  Santee was an alternative name for the Sati.  Apparently, the Sati People established a colony in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

Satikoa: (See Satipo) Hybrid Panoan-Arawak6  Meaning=ethnic name meaning Colonist-People.

Satipo: Panoan from Eastern Peru (Satibo) Meaning=Place of Colonists.  Satipo was the capital of the powerful Sati-le People on the Satilla River in Southeast Georgia.  The town was visited several times in 1564 and 1565  by the Commander of Fort Caroline, Captain René de Laudonnière.  In 1567, Spanish Captain Juan Pardo visited a town by the same name in what is now Graham County, NC.  When visited in the late 1600s by traders from Charleston, SC this town had changed its name to Satikoa.  This suggests that Arawaks had replaced the original Panoan colonists.  That name was later Anglicized to Seticoa and Stecoah. Satipo is also the name of a city and province in Eastern Peru, whose Andean Foothills environs are very similar in appearance to Western North Carolina.

Savannah: Apalache-Creek and Uchee (Savano) Meaning=Southern Shawnee

Sequoyah: Muskogee-Creek (Sikuya) Meaning: Slave, War Captive or Outcaste

Seticoa (See Satipo and Satikoa) – Anglicized name of Native American villages in Graham and Jackson Counties, NC

Soco Gap: (See Zoque and Soque – Anglicization of their tribal name) Tribes of the same name are in Southeastern United States and Southern Mexico.

Soque: (See Zoque) Tribes of the same name are in Southeastern United States and Southern Mexico; Soquee River in Northeast Georgia.

Stecoah: (See Satipo and Satikoa) – A Native American town, mountain gap and rural community in Graham County, NC

Swannanoa:  Muskogee-Creek (Suwani-owa) Meaning=Shawnee River.  A river that flows from Montreat and Black Mountain, NC to Asheville, NC where it joins the French Broad River.

Tahlequah: (See Talikoa) A Cherokee-nization of the hybrid Creek-Arawak ethnic name, Talikoa.

Talasee: Itsate Creek (Tvlasi) Meaning= Descendant of Tula; Either referring to Etowah Mounds, Teotihuacan or the Toltec capital of Tula.

Tali: Itsate-Creek (Tvli)  Meaning a planned town from the Muskogean word meaning to “design or lay out a town.” .

Talikoa: Hybrid Itsate-Creek and Middle Arawak6  Meaning=Tali People   Talikoa, Catalou and Chalaka were three major towns on the Little Tennessee River during the 1600s.  They are shown on the 1684 Franquelin Map.

Talula or Tallulah:  Itsate-Creek (Tvlula) Meaning=District administrative town with a single mound; The main highway (US 129) through Graham County, NC;  A river, gorge and waterfalls in Northeast Georgia.

Tamasee:  Itsate-Creek (Tamvsi) Meaning=Descendants of Tama, a major Creek province in Southeast Georgia.

Tamatly, Tomatly and Tomatla: Itsate Creek/Totonac-Itza Maya dialect of Tamaulipas State, Mexico (Tamautli)  Tama People from Southeast Georgia or literally Merchant People. Communities in Cherokee County, NC and a former Cherokee town on the Little Tennessee River in Tennessee.

Tanasi or Tanasee:  Hybrid Taino and Itsate Creek/Natchez  (Taena-si) – Muskogee-Creek (Tenesi or Tensaw) – Colonial French (Taensa)  Meaning=Descendants of Taeno People. Until around 1785, it was the name of the Little Tennessee River, but afterward the Calimaco River’s name was changed to an Anglicized Tennessee.

Tanasqui or Tanaskee:  Muskogee-Creek and Southern Arawak.  Meaning=Taino People.  A name given to people living around Hiwassee Island, TN by the Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo Expeditions.  Tanaskee Creek was located in the Unaka Mountains of North Carolina.

Tellico:  (See Talikoa)  Anglicized version of Cherokee-nized pronunciation of Talikoa

Tennessee: (See Tanasi) South Carolina Creeks guided the early explorers from Charleston through the North Carolina Mountains.  They called the Little Tennessee River the Tenesee River and the Tennessee River the Calimaco River.  The Cherokees in Northeastern tip of the present day state of Tennessee also called the main river, the Calimaco.   Calimaco is Itza Maya and means “House or Palace of the King.”  Around 1785, the Calimaco River was re-named the Tennessee River and the Tanasi, Tellico or Talasee River was re-named the Little Tennessee.

*The statements of 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort suggest that the Taino once occupied much of Western North Carolina, but were pushed out by the Itza Mayas expanding northward from the Georgia Mountains. Some remained in the mountains near Franklin, NC and Robbinsville, NC but most migrated downstream on the Tennessee River to what is now Northeast Alabama and Western Tennessee.  Tanasee Creek in Macon County, NC remembers their presence.

Tionontateca-gi:  Mexican Nahuatl? with Shawnee suffix for “People”.  Meaning=Cave Dwelling People. This is the 17th century name of a primitive tribe living in southern West Virginia, extreme eastern Kentucky and extreme western Virginia that interbred with Europeans and Mediterranean Peoples to become the Cherokees.  The 1701 Guillaume De Lisle Map states that they lived in caves to avoid the summer heat.

Toccoa and Tocqua:   Hybrid Itsate-Creek & Arawak6  (Tokah-koa)  Meaning: Spotted People.

Toxaway: Itsate-Creek (tawkchawe) Meaning=Hard Corn

Tuckasegee: Muskogee-Creek4 (Tokvhsi-gi) Meaning: Descendants of the Tokah People; A river in Western North Carolina. Some Tokah founded the principal Creek town of Tucksegee. Others became the Tokasee Creek in Florida, who were core members of the Seminole Alliance. Others founded towns named Tok-koa in Northeast and Northwest Georgia. Still others moved to Tennessee to found the Cherokee town of Tocqua.

Tugaloo:  Uchee/Cherokee pronunciation of Creek word, Tokah-le  Meaning=Spotted or Freckled People

Tuskegee or Tuskeegee: Muskogee Creek4 (Tvskegi) Meaning: Pilated Woodpecker People; a Tribal Town and major division of the Creek Confederacy; a community near Fontana Lake in Graham County, NC.

Tusquitee: Itsate-Creek 3 (Tvskete) Meaning: Pilated Woodpecker People; a Tribal Town and major division of the Creek Confederacy; a community in Clay County, NC.

Unaka (See Unicoi) – The mountain range that separates North Carolina from Tennessee.

Unicoi:  Muskogee –Creek (Ue-nakv) Trade path that follows a river or stream. Name of a mountain gap in White and Towns Counties, GA plus an ancient trail that connected the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers with the capital of the Apalache Kingdom in present day Northeast Metro Atlanta.

*Of course, the Unicoi Trail is well known in western North Carolina and Northeast Georgia.  Several references have ascribed Cherokee meanings to the word, but that is illogical since the Creek word specifically refers to a path or trail.  Furthermore, the trail is referred to in 1658 by French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, who stated that an Apalache-te queen ordered this trail’s construction in order to facilitate communications with branches of her kingdom in what is now the Tennessee River Valley.

Yahoo: Creek (Yahu) Meaning=to shout or call out.  It is the root of several local place names in western North Carolina that have erroneously give Cherokee derivations.

Yahoola: Itsate Creek (Yahvla) Meaning=Leader of the Sacred Black Drink Ceremony and Speaker of either the town council or national council.  It is still a very prestigious political office among Creek tribes. It is a place name or stream in several counties in the Southern Appalachians.

Zoque, Soque or Sokee: Zoque.  Meaning =the ethnic name of a once powerful tribe in Northwestern South Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Highlands and Cashiers, NC. They flattened their foreheads and practiced many other Mesoamerican traditions.  The Zoque in Southern Mexico were associated with the Olmec Civilization.


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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Very good, thank you. This is a great guide to use when I am reading any of your writing, but especially when reading back in to the archives. One of my favorite post by far!


    Richard- I lived in Alarka for 9 years. Happened to be the exact place where Bartram found the Indian Maids gathering strawberries by the stream. The village they led him to was the Yalaki Village around the bend in a large open field. The name was corrupted by English speakers as “Alarka”. Many families there are descended from Cherokee ancestors who won their petition to remain in place as long as they “became citizens of North Carolina” and no longer claimed Cherokee citizenship.

    • That’s amazing. Do you know why Yalaki was changed to Alarka? It almost seems like a different word.


    David Tait map of ( I think ) 1771 or so has a flat-out Arawak word on it as the name of the boundary river between Florida and Alabama. ( you pointed out to me that cassaba on that map is Arawak.) I know the name of my community , Canoe , is named after a tiny creek here, some say they used to actually canoe down it , but in places it would have been impassable.


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