Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Q: I am looking for the meaning of the Indian name for a creek that runs through our families property. The name of this creek is Ske-ne-da which is a Winnebago/Hochunk name. The creek is located in Dane County, WI. The name is from a 1835 map made by Horace Greely I ran across at the State Historical Society. Today it is called Door Creek.

 A: This is probably what is called a "pseudo-Indian" or "faux Indian" name, made up by non-Indian mapmakers in the 1800's based on Indian words. (We have a lot of those in Minnesota thanks to Henry Schoolcraft.) It was said to mean "pure water" in the Ho-Chunk language. "Ske" does mean "pure" in Ho-Chunk, and "Nira" does mean "water" (it was frequently written as "Nida" in English sources in the 1800's.)

The reason our Ho-Chunk volunteer believes this was a faux Indian name rather than a real one is that adjectives almost always attach to the end of nouns in the Ho-Chunk language. If this were a real Ho-Chunk name it should have been Niraske, not Skeneda. So it looks to us more like the cartographer picked the words from a dictionary (or, as is usually more common, from a book of legends or folklore,) than that he adapted it from the Ho-Chunk name for the creek. With place names though, it's hard to ever know their origin with 100% certainty unless you find the diary of the person who recorded the name-- proper names get corrupted so much over time that it's hard for native speakers of the original language to even recognize them sometimes!

Hope that helps, have a good day,
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Ho-Chunk language
Ho-Chunk people
American Indian names

No comments:

Post a Comment