Revisiting Woahink and Cleawox

Three years ago I wrote about the probable Siuslaw language origins of the names Cleawox and Woahink lakes.  I just got a new book for a present – Native American Place Names of the United States – and it was brief entries on our two lakes (along with other names) that sent me running back to Harrington’s notes to figure them out.

As I stated in my earlier post, the first time the names were written down was in 1857 by Harvey Gordon, and he certainly got those names from his hired Native assistants.  Some 90 years later, JP Harrington tried to re-elicit the names from his Siuslaw speaking informants – Howard and Clay Barrett, Spencer Scott, Frank Drew (with a few comments from Frank’s daughter Marge).  Unfortunately, by this point, everyone’s memory was fuzzy.  Harrington noted they thought long and hard about the names, but were a bit unsure.

Howard said that when he was young he had heard Jim Buchanan and his Siuslaw Mother, Ellen, pronounce the indigenous name for ‘Cleawox’; that it sounded like Cleawox but was a bit different.  Eventually, the Barrett brothers, Spencer and Frank settled on tlí’wax as the probable proper pronunciation of Cleawox lake.  Spencer commented the name reminded him of the Siuslawan words qtlíhqai, east wind, and tli’uu, he [or she] has arrived.  The phrase tli’uu is especially interesting as there is a nominal suffix -ax which Frachtenberg (who wrote a grammar of Siuslaw) defined as nominal suffix affixed to verbs and in his opinion denoted “geographical terms.  When added to verbs, or to adverbs, it is best rendered by PERSON, PEOPLE;  when used in connection with geographical terms, it denotes a tribal name and may be translated by INHABITING, BELONGING TO.” (See page 562 of Leo Frachtenberg’s “Siuslawan”) and the verb root tliu- (which Frachtenberg defined as to come, approach, arrive and also the root of the adverb ‘near’) makes up the name for this lake.

“Woahink” is even more mysterious.  Frank and Spencer had no guesses (which is refreshing in a way; Frank liked to guess a bit too much about some names and got a few things quite wrong as a result).  After thinking it over for a bit, Clay and Howard Barrett guessed the origin waxiník (in spite of the syllable stress on that last syllable, Harrington also noted it was quite short).  No etymology given, and none particularly apparent.  Well, at any rate, waxiník is more properly phonologcally Siuslawan than ‘Woahink’.

And we are so lucky that even in a slightly garbled form these lakes retain their indigenous names.  Frank said that Cleawox was for a time called ‘Buck Lake’ and Woahink was ‘Clear Lake’.  UUUUUGH seriously is there a more painfully dull and unimaginative name for a lake than ‘Clear Lake’, of which in Oregon alone I think there may be about one gazillion lakes named that.  May as well throw in the towel and call it Water Lake or Lake Lake.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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