Down through the years, people have asked “What does Coos mean? What does Siuslaw mean?” And unfortunately, there are a lot of nonsensical answers out there.
The name Siuslaw is taken directly from the Siuslaw language. In Siuslaw, it is pronounced like Shaiyuushhla (Shy – yoosh-hlah) and, as best I can chase down from interviews Harrington conducted with speakers of the language back in 1942 (which were the Barrett brothers, Spencer Scott and Frank Drew), Shaiyuushhla referred to the tribe and to the creek that comes in near North Fork. This creek was probably the source of drinking water for the village that was there at the mouth of North Fork. So it seems the tribe was known for the name of the creek by their principal village.
A myth has sprung up that Siuslaw means ‘far away water’. It doesn’t. The Siuslaws called their river iktatuu, the big one. I think they story of ‘far away water’ comes from something Jim Buchanan (a Coos informant for Frachtenberg and Jacobs) said, because Siuslaw is somewhat far from Coos Bay. And he was speaking of a Coos perception, not a Siuslaw one (after all, it would not make sense for Siuslaws to call their own river far away when it was on their front doorstep).
Hanis and Milluk – the two band names of Coos Bay people – also are derived from principal villages. Hanisich was at Empire, and Millukwich was the village at Charleston. Etymologies of all these names – Siuslaw, Milluk and Hanis – are unknown unfortuantely. Hanis defninitely ends with the nominal suffix -s, but what the han– is derived from I don’t know.
The Lower Umpqua people spoke the same language as the Siuslaw, and to distinguish themselves they called themselves quuiich. This is probably derived from the words qiiuu, south, and hiich, people. The southern people.
There is also an old myth that Coos means ‘lake’ or ‘place of pines’. It doesn’t – in Hanis Coos lake is tstl’iis (and I think the word is similar in Milluk), and place of pines would be tsipkwiich. No one is 100% sure where the word “Coos” comes from but it might be derived in whole or part from the Hanis and Milluk word for south, kuukwis. The Coos Bay people defined themselves as the southern people in relation to the Siuslaw and Umpqua; they did not feel a kinship to the Athabaskan speakers to the south of them. They also called the Milluk speaking band at the mouth of the Coquille River the kwisiiya, southerners. (The Upper Coquilles were known as dineyuu or qwaiich me). Also, in 1806 Lewis and Clark recorded Chinook and Tillamook names for tribes down the coast – and wrote in their journals that the Coos Bay people were known as Coo-coo-oose. I think these early records influenced later explorers and visitors.
Well, my 5 year old is demanding attention, so we’ll have to return to the subject of tribal names and place names later…