Extraordinary number of dictionaries required to translate the Native American place names of Georgia

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The painting above by Georg Frederich Von Reck (1735) portrays three Creek Indians near Savannah. Note that they are wearing hand-woven clothing, not garments fabricated from European cloth. The Creeks were substantially taller than the English.

Since early December, I have been nerding away on a monumental task . . . a scientific etymology of all the surviving Native American words of the Southeastern United States. Most of the existing PUBLISHED etymologies for the Southeastern states are based primarily on folklore and are 80-100% inaccurate. Throughout December I labored away at lists for all the states south of the Ohio River, but then discovered that Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama (in that order) had far more than the other states. Georgia and Florida had the most.

The reason that I first took a regional perspective was that I hoped to find the cultural roots of the Cherokee People somewhere in the northern part of the Southeastern states . . . most likely in Kentucky, Virginia or West Virginia. There are surprisingly few Cherokee place names in the Southeast and five Native American place names in all of Kentucky. The authentic Cherokee words elsewhere are primarily limited to small streams or the former names of small streams . . . but only in some places. The Oconaluftee River, which flows through North Carolina Cherokee Reservation is a CREEK word, which means, “Oconee People – Massacred.”

This was the first map in the Southeast to even mention the Cherokees.

The first map, drawn in the Southeast, to mention the Cherokees was produced by John and Richard Beresford in 1715. It showed them living primarily in the northeastern tip of Tennessee. All of the Tennessee River Basin was then occupied by the Creeks, Uchees and Chickasaws.

The latest map to mention the Cherokees elsewhere was published in 1649 and showed them living 650 miles to the northeast at a location east of Lake Ontario and north of the St. Lawrence River. French Colonial archives stated that the Cherokees (Charioquets) were vassals of the Tiononcatetaga. In 1649, the Tiononcatetaga foolishly became allies of the Hurons in a war with the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Iroquois catastrophically defeated this alliance . . . driving the surviving Hurons westward to Lake Huron and the remnants of the Tionocatetaga southwestward . . . ultimately to southern West Virginia. We can presume that the remnants of the Cherokees also settled in southern West Virginia, but there is no existing map with a similar name on it, until 1715.

Giving up on finding the linguistic vestiges of the Cherokees, I assumed that Georgia’s and Florida’s etymologies would be the easiest for me because they superficially appeared to be mostly Creek words, many of which I would know, without having to look them up in a dictionary. So I dived into the completion of Georgia’s Native American words first. That task turned out to include 452 words!

The translations have taken three months! The interpretations were not as expected. Many of the words were not in the Creek dictionaries or they were in dialects of Creek that no longer exist, so I had to “re-engineer” them from existing Creek words.

However, the biggest surprise was the sheer number of languages from which Georgia’s place names were derived. Ultimately,  when tackling the origins and meanings of all the known or suspected Native American place names in Georgia, an extraordinarily large pile of dictionaries was required.  The 26 dictionaries, in approximate rank of frequency, were:  Itsate-Creek/Miccosukee, Muskogee-Creek, Apalache-Creek/Apalachicola, Itza Maya, Panoan (Peru), Chickasaw, Southern Arawak (Peru), Cherokee, Middle Arawak, Northern Arawak, Kanza (Kaw), Choctaw, Taino, Carib, Tupi, Shawnee, Koasati, Indo-European Cognates, Archaic Irish, Irish/Scottish Gaelic, Ofa-Biloxi, Mobilian, Yucatec Maya, Archaic Swedish, Gamla Norsk and Anglisk (Archaic English). Yes . . . Archaic English . . . one of the member tribes of the Creek Confederacy had a name that would have been easily understood by the Angles of southern Scandinavia, before they invaded the island of the Britannia. Astonishingly, these ancient Anglisk words have the same meaning in modern Muskogee-Creek!

The book on Georgia’s Native American words will be published in early April 2020. I have included a chapter containing a series of maps, which prove that the orthodox ethnic landscape of the Southeast, produced by most academicians and the US Department of the Interior, is well . . . malarkey. The book on Florida’s Native American words should be published by June 2020. Many of Florida’s Native American words can also be found on the landscape of Georgia.


  1. Richard, Congrats on your new book. The term Tio-nonta-tecaga (Toltecs?) or Tionontati (“People Among the Hills/Mountains”) seems to be names the Delaware people gave to some of the Cherokee groups (Western Virginia / Northern Tenn.).. also perhaps the movement of the “Attawandaron” groups to as far south as West Virginia by the Kanawha river (Kan-ani, a ancient copper miners people) by the late 16th century added to the mix of the Cherokee (Ani-yunwiya). I Found a map with the name of a tribe called Kali-cuas (another possible connection to a people of India) on the very far North end of the Tennessee river. Capt. Vielle made a journey in the 1692-94 to visit the Shawnee who had settled in the area of North east Georgia of the once Apalachi people who had lived there. It does seem likely that both the Zokee/Sokee and the Du hair (a auburn haired people) once lived in Southern India / Columbia / Mexico / the South East U.S. / Ireland…their movements could have led to words like “A-mer-ica”, Amorica.

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  2. Yes, I have sent that alternative name for them, which appears to be a Itza Maya tribal name – notice the ti or te at the end? That’s an exclusive Itza Maya – Itsate Creek – Koasati suffix.


  3. Richard, at one time the “Atta” prefix was part of many of the different tribes of Alabama based on the 1730 Mitchell map. That was a term used from the Great lakes to the Gulf coast likely a important word you have decoded? Thanks for the articles.


  4. Mitchell map was printed in 1755. The only Atta that I saw on the map was the Attasee on the Georgia side of the Chattahoochee River. They were originally from the Ocmulgee River near Warner Robbins, GA. The word means “Downstream People.”


  5. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3290.ct001452/?r=0.364,0.141,0.391,0.198,0
    Richard, It appears that the Muskogee are related to the Mocosa (Nation of Chat (Tchattaouchi) on this map? Perhaps the Delaware Native lore of the Allagewi people of Ohio as well…some of the Erie Tribe were perhaps the Westo. Different tribes seem to have arrived during the “Beaver wars” of the 16th century and assisted by the French to retake Georgia. The “Att or Atti” prefix seems to be a connection of the Fort ancient people. Tocop ata-errans found on one map in South-west Georgia indicating a connection to the Yuchi / Tokha. The Hurons called some the Attiouandaron (tobacco people).

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