Itza Maya words on North America’s landscape

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

One Summer In Mexico ~ Part 63

Many readers are in for a real shock!

Remember back in 2012, when “experts” in the Public Relations office of the US Forest Service, the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists and the Society for Georgia Archaeology repeatedly told the public that there was no evidence of Mesoamericans ever migrating to North America? We quickly figured out that even though the archaeologists involved usually had PhD’s in Anthropology, they actually knew very little about either Maya or Creek cultural history.

Well, duh-h-h how do you explain the Mesoamerican DNA markers in the Creek, Seminole, Koasati, Miccosukee and Alabama Indians? My family carries NO North American Indian DNA markers. They are all from southern Mexico and eastern Peru. However, even more obvious are the hundreds of Mesoamerican place names in the Southeastern United States. Were they delivered by UPS when it moved its corporate offices to Atlanta? This footnote to the series on Mexico gives the reader an overview of the extraordinary evidence that can be found on maps.

One fact must be emphasized. There were originally at least 140 “Maya” languages and dialects. Still today there are at least 38! One cannot pick up just any Maya language dictionary and find these words. A thousand years ago, Itza was one of the most commonly spoken members of a family of Maya languages in Tabasco, Chiapas and Guatemalan Highlands, but that is no longer the case. they are a small minority. However, in 2020, I spoke to a Maya immigrant from Guatemala, who understood everyone of the Itza words below. What we determined was that the nouns and adjectives in his dialect were identical or similar to those in Itza and Eastern (Itsate) Creek, but not the verbs.

Note: Complete analyses and dictionary references for all etymologies below may be found in Native American Encyclopedia of Georgia (2020) by Richard L. Thornton. It is published by Lulu Publishing, Inc and maybe purchased online.

Startling Facts!

First startling fact! At least four federally-recognized tribes and one state-recognized tribe in the United States have Itza Maya names or Anglicized versions of original Itza Maya names. They are:

  • Catawba – They were called the Katapa on all maps until the late 1700s. Katapa means “Crown-Place of” in Itza. The Katapa’s home province was between Atlanta and Gainesville, GA. Their name appears on maps at that location until after the American Revolution. One band of Kapata moved eastward and established a province, in which several Siouan tribes were their vassals. Check the eyewitness accounts. When the Katapa lead a powerful confederacy, their elite males flattened their foreheads and wore Mesoamerican style kilts. Only after about 98% of the population was lost to war, slave raids and European diseases, did all the Katapa speak a Siouan language.
  • Kaw Nation – Kaw is the Itza word for eagle. This is the preferred name of the Kansa Indians, who call themselves the “Eagle People.” They are divided into the white and black eagle clans, but us a Siouan word for eagle, other than in their tribal name. According to their elders, their homeland was on the coast of South Carolina near Georgetown. They migrated to NW Georgia to get away from white pirates and indigenous slave raiders. Here they became the commoners for Kusa, which used an eagle as its logo. Look at the old maps, the original Cherokee name for the location of New Echota was Gansagiyi, which means “Kansa-People-Old place of.”
  • Alabama – The original name for the river and indigenous people was Albaamaha. That is pure Itza Maya and means “Place of Lord Jaguar” or “Place of Jaguar River.” Colonial Period explorers, Richard Brigstock, John Lawson and James Adair, mentioned that there were jaguars in southern Alabama and Mississippi until the mid-1700s.
  • Miccosukee – This was the name of the capital town of the South Florida Seminoles. It means “Leaders of the Soque or Sokee.” When the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to recognize these people under the name that they called themselves . . . MAYA . . . the tribe’s leaders then offered the name of their capital town, Mikkosokee.
  • Tama Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe (recognized by Georgia) – Tama means “trade” in Totonac, Itza Maya, Chote Maya and Soque (Zoque/Sokee). This tribal town is located in extreme southwestern Georgia. However, in the mid-1970s, it chose for its name, the name of the capital of a province that was on the upper Altamaha River in central Georgia. The Tamate or Tamale were Itsate Creeks, who spoke a language very close to Itza Maya. They were allies of the Highland Apalache and enemies of the Muskogee Creeks. Those that survived waves of European diseases and slave raids relocated to southeast Georgia and then Florida. Their descendants are now recognized as either Florida Seminoles or Miccosukee.

Second startling fact! The official titles of the principal chief and second chief of the Creek Confederacy, plus all but two of the political leadership positions in the old Creek Confederacy are derived from Itza Maya political titles. Etalwamikko (principal chief) comes from the Itza title, Etulamako , which means “Principal town – king.” Heneha (Second chief) comes from the Itza title, Hene Ahaw, which means “Sun Lord.” The sun lords were the brothers and sisters of the Hene Mako (Great Sun or emperor). At the time of the De Soto Expedition, hene ahaws were the circuit judges of a province. Emaraw (counselor to the Mikko) is the same as the Itza word E-maraw, which means “principal counselor” or “member of the royal council.”

Third startling fact! Miami, Florida definitely has a Maya name, while Tampa probably does. The majority of Mayas never called themselves Mayas until the Spanish told them that was their name. The real Mayas apparently originated in Florida, but some of their bands immigrated to the coastal regions of Cuba and north-central Yucatan. Those in Yucatan rapidly absorbed the advanced culture of the indigenous peoples and became dominant by 900 AD.

Mia is the Itza and Eastern Creek for a pond or an island. One is surrounded by land, the other meaning is surrounded by water. The M is so heavily actuated that Europeans recorded the word as Ma-ia. The name of the province around Lake Okeechobee, Florida was “Miam-i or Maiami,” which means Lake People – living place of -principal. Their territory in northern Yucatan was named Miam or Maiam. The Spanish wrote that word as Mayam, since a Y in Spanish conveys a long E sound. The name of the north-central Yucatan Peninsula became the name of all territory occupied by about 138 tribes that shared similar cultural practices . . . soon being shortened to Maya.

This is not certain, but probably Tampa Bay’s name was Tamapa, which means “Trade – Place of.” The Mexican state of Tamaulipas has similar origins. Its name means “Trade People” – “place of.”

Fourth startling fact! Several major rivers in the Southeast have or had Itza Maya names. Actually, any stream with the suffixes, haw, hatchee or hoochee are at least partially Itza Maya words. In Itza and Eastern Creek, haw means ” a large river” and hache means “shallow river or creek.” Those with full Maya names include:

  • Altamaha River – It means “Place of Trade – River” or “Place of the Merchant Lord.”
  • Alabama River – It means “Place of Jaguar -River” or “Place of the Jaguar Lord.”
  • Alapaha River – I means “Alligator River.”
  • Callemako River – This was the name of the Tennessee River until the late 1780s. It is a Maya word meaning, “House of the King” or “royal palace.”
  • Catabaw (Katapa) River – “Crown – Place of”.
  • Chattahoochee River – It means “Carved stone – Shallow River” or “Ancient Ruins – Shallow River.”
  • Chehaw (Chiaha) River – It means “Salvia River.”
  • Cheoah (Chiaha) River – It means “Salvia River.”
  • Etowah (Etula) River – It means “Principal Town.”
  • Haw River – Haw means “river.”
  • Mobile (Mapile) River – Tamale and Totonac word for people trading at a market
  • Saukehatchee River – This is the original name of the Broad River in NE Georgia, until the late 1700s. The Broad River joins the Savannah River near Elberton. Saukehatchee means Soque River. Evidently, Soque territory once substantially extended southward from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A Sea Sami?
  • Soque River – This is a white water stream in extreme northeast Georgia, where the Soque had their last territory. The capital of the Soque province was on the Soque River near its source. Soke and Soque are actually pronounced, Sjō – kē, which also happens to be the name of the Sea Sami of northern Norway and Sweden. During the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, the Sea Sami constructed boats which were capable of sailing long distances into the ocean, where they fished and captured whales. The Zoque or Soque of southern Mexico sometimes portrayed themselves, wearing the head of a shark or holding a fish.
  • Tallahatchee (Tulahache) River – This means “Town River.”
  • Tallulah (Talula) River – This word means a district administration town with one earthen pyramid.
  • Tybee (Taube) Island and River – Taube means “salt” in Itza and Eastern Creek. When Savannah was settled in 1733, the Creeks and Uchees were operating a very sophisticated salt factory on near by Taube Island. At an unknown later date, it was purchased by British investors and continued to operate until the Civil War, when it was destroyed by Union Army soldiers.
Tybee Island brine drying factory – Sketch by George Von Reck

Other common Itza words in the Southeastern United States

  • The Itza suffix for a tribe or people is “ti or te.” If you see a Native American place name, ending in tee, te or ti, it is at least partially an Itza word.
  • In Totonac and Itza Maya grammar, the suffix “hi” functions in the same manner as “-er” in English. It converts a verb into a noun. For example, “hi” added to the verb meaning “to trade” . . . tama . . . became tamahi, or the word for a trader or merchant. Most Native American place names, ending with hee, he or hi, are at least partially, an Itza word. Place names in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, ending with hi, he or hee are partially Itza names.
  • The Muskogean words for “winter house” and “summer house” are choko and chiki. Choko means “warm” in Itza Maya, while chiki is the Itza name for a summer house. The Itza word for a house with solid walls was calli. So, the well known Seminole word, chikee, is an Itza Maya word.
  • The Itza suffixes for “place of” are po, pa and pas. The Itza prefixes for “place of” are am and al. The original name for the Southeastern Gulf Coast, Amichel, means “Place of the Goddess Ixchel.”

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