Nice and big in Northern Iroquoian

Wallace Chafe chafe at
Wed Nov 10 20:19:06 UTC 2004


You probably know that Ohio comes from a Seneca word, Ohi:yo?, which is
currently the name of both a river and the Allegany Reservation. The river
includes what we call the Allegany (Allegheny in PA) and its continuation
as the Ohio. The name has the -iyo- verb root preceded by a noun root
meaning "river", which shows up here as simply h. I'm not sure what you
mean by the name being probably quite ancient; I don't know how to tell how
long the Senecas have been using it. To them today it certainly means
something like "good river" (maybe in the sense of how it looks, belle
riviere), not "big river".


> It seems that Marianne is onto something here. In fact, the hydronym
> "Ohio," which is probably quite ancient, would seem to embody the PNI
> sense of |-iyo-|, although the French translation "belle riviere"
> certainly reflects the modern Seneca/Mohawk "nice" meaning.

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