Native Seattle: sdZéédZul7aleecH

Seattle is the only large U.S. city named after a Native American individual, Chief Seattle (spelled variously Sealth, Seathl, and elsewise). There are plenty of other cities with Native American names, but the only others named for an actual person are small. The largest I have found is Pocatello, Idaho, with a fairly sizable population of 51,466, named for the Shoshoni Chief Pocatello. Other, smaller examples include the city of Winnemucca, NV (pop. 7,174 and named for Chief Winnemucca), Pocahontas, AR (pop. 6,518, for Pocahontas of course), Red Cloud, NB (pop. 1,131, for Red Cloud), Tecumseh, MI (pop. 8,574), Tecumseh, OK (pop. 6,098), and a few others named for Tecumseh. There are a few cities named for Hiawatha, the largest of which is Hiawatha, Iowa (pop. 6,480). The city of Indianapolis was nearly named Tecumseh, but apparently Indianapolis was deemed better. So Seattle, with a population just under 600,000 and a metro area population in the millions, seems to be the only truly large U.S. city named for a Native American person.

For a city with a name like Seattle, you might think there would be Native American place names within the city. And there are a number of places that have been given native names, but of places that still have their pre-city (pre-conquest?) native names there is apparently but one. Licton Springs is today the name of a neighborhood in Seattle, north of Green Lake. The rust-red colored spring is still visible in Licton Springs Park. The natives who lived in Seattle before there was a Seattle spoke Whulshootseed. Licton Springs was known as lééQtud in that language, a word meaning “red paint”. Of course “lééQtud” is an attempt to render a Whulshootseed word into the latin alphabet, so it looks strange. The capital Q is pronounced like the c in “cool” (a “back k sound”), but with an explosion of pressure built up at the back of the mouth (glottalized). The double ee is pronounced as in English “meet”. I’m not sure what the accents are for.

A few other native place names have survived, but mostly those refering to tribes, bands, and groups of people, like Duwamish and Shilshole. Had other names survived instead of saying Pioneer Square we might say sdZéédZul7aleecH (yes, that is a 7 in there), which means “Little Crossing-Over Place”. It was the name of one of the largest native villages in what is now Seattle. It was located near the foot of today’s Yesler Way, right in the heart of Pioneer Square. Okay, we’d probably spell it slightly differently.

The information about native place names in Seattle comes from the book Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place, by Coll Thrush.

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2 Comments on “Native Seattle: sdZéédZul7aleecH”

  1. tonx Says:

    I think Kokomo Indiana is named after an Indian Chief…

  2. pfly Says:

    Oh, so it is. Chief Ma-Ko-Ko-Mo of the Miami, according to Wikipedia. I think I had heard of Kokomo, it sounds familiar–that it exists I mean, not its name origin. Indiana is mostly a mysterious place to me, full of places with odd names like Wabash, Tippecanoe, Muncie, Kankakee, etc. But hey, look at that, Kokomo is a sizable city of 48,000 or so. That makes it #3 in the list.


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