Indian Names

David L. White dlwhite at
Thu Apr 5 15:34:58 UTC 2001

> I've seen it written that Waco comes from a Native American
> language BUT I've seen the same thing said about patently Spanish names
> such as Pedernales. Unless there is proof to the contrary, I'd say that
> Waco is Tejano Spanish <hueco> "spring that pools up from the ground" <
> standard Spanish "hole".

        But are there any springs at Waco?  Not that I ever heard, though
probably there is a minor one or two, just enough to make this derivation
plausible.  The original meaning is supposed to have been something like
"meeting place" in Tonkawa, and upon examination I find that /wa-/ in
Tonkawa is an element meaning 'place' in some correlatives.  That would
mean, if there is any connection, that the English pronunciation would have
to be from spelling (unattested "Huaco" Anglicized as "Waco", then mangled),
but stranger things have happened.

> OTOH Spanish speakers in Texas generally assume that Texas
> is from Spanish <tejas> "tiles" because of the red soil but locally, it's
> said that it from the name of a local Native American confederacy meaning
> "friends".

        Red soil is not to my knowledge especially common in Texas.  The
only places I have seen it are very locally at Bastrop, where it is probably
related somehow the occurrence of the "lost" pines that grow in it, some
places in East Texas, and up around the Red River (and in Oklahoma).
Otherwise, one may find black soil, brown soil, white soil (often in East
Texas, where it is basically fine sand), more or less permanent mud, no soil
(but plenty of rocks)....
        The non-Spanish word /texas/ is supposed to be from a Caddo word
generally glossed as meaning  'friends', but perhaps meaning more what we
would call "allies", Latin "socios".   As far as I know, this etymology is
not considered controversial.
        Speaking of the Caddos, I cannot resist telling the tale of how
Europeans (I think Spanish) were amazed at how they could weep at will as
part of their greeting ritual.  In this connection, it is interesting that
the Norse cognate of English "greet" means 'weep', so perhaps somethig of
the sort was practiced among the ancient Germans.  And perhaps it is fairly

Dr. David L. White

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