Here’s a name I wasn’t expecting: Atchafalaya

Atchafalaya basin
© Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

My husband and I drove through several Southeastern states via I-10 last week. Admittedly I slept through most of the trip, but during the moments I was awake I managed to spot two intriguing place names: Tchoutacabouffa and Atchafalaya.

Tchoutacabouffa refers to a river in southern Mississippi. The name means “broken pot” in Biloxi, a Siouan language.

Atchafalaya refers to a wetland area in southern Louisiana. The name was derived from the Choctaw term hacha falaia, meaning “long river” (hacha is river, falaia is long).

Of course I had to know if Tchoutacabouffa and Atchafalaya had ever been used as human names. I didn’t find anyone named Tchoutacabouffa, but I did track down several people named Atchafalaya:

  • Atchafalaya “Chaffa” Grace, née Gregory (b. 1845, Florida)
  • Achafalaya Holstein (b. 1874, West Virginia)
  • Atchafalaya Clizer, née Starnes (b. 1876, Missouri)
  • M. Atchafalaya Ziler (b. 1876, West Virginia)
  • Athafalaya Lilly (b. 1880, West Virginia)
  • Atchafalaya Hall, nee Presher (b. 1870-1880, Missouri)
  • Atchafalaya Knorr (b. 1892, Pennsylvania)
  • Atchafalaya Smith (b. 1905, West Virginia)

Curiously, none of these Atchafalayas (and none of their parents, as far as I could tell) came from Louisiana.

4 thoughts on “Here’s a name I wasn’t expecting: Atchafalaya

  1. All are along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers so perhaps their families traveled from Louisiana along the rivers to relocate.

  2. I frequently hear from elderly people that children’s names are so strange these days. After reading your blog for quite some time now, I am convinced that perhaps we simply finished a “boring” naming era… and are back to being individualistic again.

    Love it!

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