Indigenous American tribes with ancient European names

Part 19 of the Mesolithic Period in Eastern North America

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The petroglyphs of northern Georgia are identical to the petroglyphs of Southwestern Ireland or southern Sweden . . . depending on what section of the Georgia Gold Belt they are located in.  No matter how many Europeans settled in North America before Columbus,  their descendants would have looked like American Indians to the colonists, who arrived after Columbus.  Many generations of intermarriage with American Indians had occurred.

It is still an unsolved question as to why ancient root words, prefixes and suffixes from northern and western Europe can found in the languages, tribal names and place names of eastern North America, Mesoamerica and northern South America.  Nevertheless,  there is no doubt of a linguistic connection.

It is a fact, not a theory.   For example, “bo” means “living place” in Swedish, Anglisk (Archaic English) and the Panoan languages of eastern Peru and the South Atlantic Coast.  The word became “po” in several Central America languages . . . “pa” in Itza Maya and Eastern Creek then “fa” in Muskogee Creek. 

  • The original name of Ossabaw Island near Savannah was Asebo, a Panoan word, which means “Yaupon Holly – Living Place.
  • The real name of the Cusabo Indians in South Carolina was Kaushibo, a Panoan word, which means “Strong/Elite – Living Place.”
  • The English word, borough, is derived from the Anglisk root word “bo” with the Anglisk word for “king.”
  • Anglisk created plural nouns by adding “-en” to a singular noun.  (ox =oxen)  Panoan, Highland Apalachete-Creek and Muskogee-Creek create plural nouns the same way.

The critical role of linguistics

The profound difference between archaeologists in Mexico and the Southeastern United States is their relative attitudes toward linguistics.  Comprehensive linguistic and archival studies are done before the archaeologists go on site.  All artifact styles and cultural periods are given indigenous American names . . . not ridiculous English names, such as Lamar, Dunlap, Swift Creek, Deptford, Pisgah, etc. as we see here in the states. 

In contrast, during the period in the mid-to-late 20th centuries, when the most archaeological work occurred in the Southeast,  the archaeologists operated under the unstated presumption that the people, who built the buildings and made the artifacts were extinct and the surviving Indigenous place names were untranslatable.  In northern Georgia,  western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee,  it was common for archaeologists to label Muskogean or Maya words to be “ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.” If provided at all in archaeological reports,  cultural histories were defined by an inventory of artifacts with English names and their probable age.   That is NOT cultural history, but rather an inventory report.

In 2006, I began working on The Native American Encyclopedia of Georgia.  It was intended to be both an etymology of Indigenous American place names and prominent indigenous words found in historical narratives. Initially,  I assumed that contemporary anthropologists had developed a reliable and comprehensive understanding of the Native American peoples of the Southeast, but it would be interesting to know the meanings and origins of their words, so we might better understand the ancestors of contemporary tribes.

Identifying words of Muskogean or Mesoamerican origin was quite straightforward, because we have university-published dictionaries available both in the United States and Canada. I remembered some Itza Maya words anyway . . . from the fellowship in Mexico.  I still could not translate any of the tribal names on the South Atlantic Coast and Southeast Georgia.

While reading the ten chapters on Georgia by 17th century French Natural Scientist,  Charles de Rochefort, I learned that the Lower Southeast had received significant immigrations from Peru, Colombian, Venezuela and the Caribbean Basin.  Many of the core cultural traditions of the Creeks are among the Panoans of Peru to this day.  They include “Swift Creek” and “Napier” Style pottery, traditional Creek clothing,  the Stomp Dance and Yaupon Tea (Sacred Black Drink)

I was able to obtain university-published dictionaries of several Panoan languages.  There are several core words in the Creek languages, which are Panoan . . . including the word for Yaupon Holly and Yaupon Tea . . . asé . . . and the words for beans and canoes.  I was able to translate all of the tribal names on the South Atlantic Coast and southeast Georgia with those dictionaries.

The English connection

The Alekmanni People of the Lower Altamaha River and where I live in Habersham County in NE Georgia had a name that could only be Anglisk.   It means “Medicinal herbs or Herb healer” –“ noblemen” in Anglisk.”   This is exactly what Captain René de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, said their name meant.  In modern Muskogee-Creek, alek means either a medical doctor or medicinal herbs!

The Ancient Iberian Connection – Re

Many tribal names from the Southern Highlands still could not be translated.  These were important because most of these tribes became divisions of the Creek Confederacy or Seminole Confederacy.  For many years, I made no progress in this endeavor. 

Out of desperation, I decided to focus on one suffix . .  “le or li”.   It was used by many Uchee tribes in the Carolinas and eastern Georgia, plus some tribe on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.   That latter observation made no sense.   I went online, but found no translation of that tribal suffix in any major language of the world.

Then I found some old Colonial Period French and Spanish maps, which named tribes that the English spelled with an le, lee or li at the end, as ending with “re” or “ree.”  Things began to make sense.  The Uchee, Muskogee Creeks and Panoans roll their R’s so hard that English-speakers and often French-speakers wrote the rolled R sound as an L.   Thus,  a 16th century town on the Chattahoochee River was written by a French mapmaker as Apalou.    It was actually the Panoan town name, Aparu, which means “from Peru.”

For several years, I searched for an indigenous American language that seemed to be the source of the “re” or “le” suffix.  There was none.  My Indo-European Cognate Dictionary kept on going back to the Iberian Peninsula.  “Re” meant “king” or “kingdom” in Neolithic and Bronze Age Iberia.  It is the source of the modern Spanish word for king, rey.  The “re” suffix can mainly be seen in place names of Asturias, Galicia and Navarre (extreme NW Iberia).  That’s where most of the DNA of present-day Irish and Scottish Gaels comes from.  The Scots originally lived in northern Ireland.

The landscape of Ireland was dotted with cities, towns and counties, whose anglicized names ended in “ry,” which is actually an “rē” sound.  They included Derry, Osrey, County Kerry, Tipperary, Curry, Murray, Cory and Toccary.

The Colonial Era maps of South Carolina, western North Carolina, eastern Georgia and eastern Tennessee are dotted with the names of tribes, which end in re, ree, le, lee, li, ry and ly.  They include the Congaree, Wataree, Wahale, Wasali, Notely, Tokale, Tamale, Osile, Kiale, Kurale and Tokahle.

The Tamale People are a Maya tribe in Tabasco State, who speak a language close to Miccosukee.  Tamales also settled on Mobile Bay and in Southeast Georgia. Tamale is also the root of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas’ name.  It is a combination of the Totonac word for “trade” (tama) with the Iberian suffix for nation (re) and the Chontal Maya suffix for “place of” (pas).

Kialegi Tribal Town: County Kerry’s name comes from Archaic Galician and Irish – Kiar-re,  which means “dark-skinned tribe.” Kia-re was also the name of a prominent Creek tribe, whose three-mounded capital was at present-day Watkinsville, GA, near Athens.   They also maintained a trading base on Kiawah Island, SC and another on the Keowee River in extreme NW South Carolina.  Their direct descendant is the Kialegi Creek Tribal Town in Oklahoma.

Culasee People:  In their non-Anglicized form this branch of the Creeks would be written as Cur-re-se (Curry in Ireland) . . . with “se” meaning “descendants of.”  Early maps show them living on the headwaters of the Savannah River in Georgia and on the Tuckasegee River in North Carolina.  They eventually migrated southward to Florida and joined the Seminole Alliance. They are the origin of Cullawhee, NC and Currahee Mountain in Georgia.

Tocahle/Tocahre People:  At the time of European Contact, the Tokahle lived on the upper Tuckasegee River in North Carolina and at the headwaters of the Savannah River in Georgia.  They were known for being very tall and brawny with often having red or brown hair and freckles.  Tokahle today is the Creek word for “freckled.”

They are called the Toque by Captain Juan Pardo’s chronicles.  The word in modern Irish Gaelic means “Principal Tribe or Kingdom.”   Branches of the Tocahle were called the Tocasee by the Creeks and Seminole . . . Toca-koa by Arawaks  . . . Dagalu by the Cherokees.  Their name is the roots of the Tuckasegee River in North Carolina, the Tugaloo River in Georgia and the Toccoa River in Georgia.

The powerful Creek town of Tokahpahsi (Tuckabatchee) was first located on the Chattahoochee River where Six Flags Over Georgia is located then moved to the Talllapoosa River then moved back to its original location in 1776.  It stayed on the Chattahoochee until 1821, whereafter its name disappeared from Creek censuses.  Tokasee became a division of the Seminole alliance.

Wataree People:  This was formerly a large tribe that occupied western North Carolina, north of Asheville and northeastern Tennessee.  The Cherokees called them the Watagi. The root, Watar, probably is the Anglisk word for water, water.  The re suffix is from Iberia and northwestern Europe.  It means “kingdom or nation.”

Wasale or Wassaw People:  The This was a large, culturally advanced tribe along the Savannah River and at the mouth of the Ogeechee River at Wassaw Sound, just south of Savannah.  Their large capital was on the Savannah River, near Elberton, GA.  They were called the Guasali by the Spanish and Waxhaw by white South Carolina settlers.  Wassa is the word for water or ocean in several Polynesian languages and in central German.  You take your choice.   I lean toward Polynesian, because my mother’s Uchee-Creek family lived near Elberton and we carry significant Polynesian DNA markers. However, the “le-re” suffix is definitely Iberian and Irish.

Gaelic, Norse and Polynesian word for people or tribe – ghe, gi or ki

This is a case where one really needs a time machine.  Pronounced, as a guttural K, this is the modern Irish Gaelic suffix for “people or tribe,” yet is also found in all the Algonquin languages,  the names of several Algonquin tribes, the Cherokees, the Muskogee-Creeks, plus several tribes in southern Mexico and Central America. It is also written as gee or kee.

The Sea People

All of these tribal names are pronounced the same –  Jzhō : kē

1.  Sjøke  (Sea People) – Traditional Norwegian name for the Sea Sami . . . also called the Northern Sami.  They are the most Asiatic looking of all branches of the Sami.  The Sea Sami probably developed the famous hjörtspring boat during the late Neolithic Period, when they occupied most of Scandinavia and went long distances at sea to catch whales.  Scandinavian historians now believe that when Germanic and Celtic peoples began immigrating into southern Scandinavia during the early Iron Age, the Sea Sami taught them how to build sea-going boat and navigation techniques.

2. Zoque or Soque – Name of large tribe in Chiapas and Tabasco states, Mexico. Until it was invaded by the Mexica (Aztecs) around 1250 AD,  they also occupied the region around Tepoztlan, Morelos.  They claim to have been the progenitors of the so-called Olmec Civilization and also that Tepoztlan was the first city in Mexico.

3. Soque, Sokee, Sukee, Sookee, Jokee, Jocasee –  The Itsate Creeks called these allies, the Saute, Sautele or Sutalee.  The Muskogee Creeks called them Sauke.  Their towns and villages were concentrated on the Soque and Broad Rivers in Northeast Georgia.  Leaders of the new colony of South Carolina stated that the Soque had many “Mexican” traits and were the most advanced people, north of Mexico.

In 1911, schoolteacher, J. E. Lazelle, was the first white man to live among the people, who now call themselves Miccosukee.  However, until 1951,  they called themselves MAYAS.  Miccosukee was the name of their capital town.  Lazelle was told that the Miccosukee originate in southern Mexico and were the last branch of the Creek Confederacy to arrive in Georgia. They had been driven out of Mexico by the Aztecs.  They may well be descended from the Zoque, living around Tepoztlan, but this is not certain. 

They also told Lazelle that they were the founders of the first civilization in Mexico and had later participated in the Maya Civilization.  The so-called Olmec Civilization had just been discovered by Mexican archaeologists, but it was unknown in the USA.  They called it, “La Cultural Madre” (Mother Culture).  Three decades later, a Gringo archaeologist gave the mysterious culture the inaccurate name of Olmec Civilization.  The Olmecs did not arrive in southern Mexico until 1,500 years after the Olmec Civilization ended!

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Zoque arrived in Tabasco around 900 BC.  The Zoque state that they arrived on the shores of Mexico in three canoe flotillas from across the Gulf Of Mexico.  That means that they had already been living in North America for an unknown period of time.  They introduced pottery-making and mound building to an American Indian people, who were extremely skilled farmers. As seen at right,  in early stone figurines, the Zoque portrayed themselves having large beards and wear conical caps that were typical of northern Europe during the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages in Europe.


  1. Thank you for this “as always ” most interesting post Richard. Especially about the language, I think however I would get a little . As you know I studied the Mycenaean language called Linear B. and am now studying Hittite language. I don’t think I could manage the different tribal languages here even though fascinating. Have a good X,mas and wishing you the very best for the coming New Year 2023.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Notley is a modern slur for the relatively older name of Nolta. Today we have businesses that are named Nolta here in Blairsville. Not sure how that fits with the ly or li word salad of the colonial era maps from carolinas.

    Liked by 1 person

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