Historical Names - Southwestern Bayous

Map of the southwestern Bayou region from West, Atlas of LA Surnames, figure 4, p. 6.

Translations (see Father Daigle's Dictionary of the Cajun Language or any French-speaking Cajun; for Indian names, see Kniffen et al., Indian Tribes of LA):

Abbeville is a city in France; the name means town of the priest or abbot, specifically Abbé A. D. Magret, founder of the town on the Vermilion River

anse
, also spelled ance or l'anse, means cove, which in the prairie regions of South Louisiana means an open area shaped by woods or streams into a more or less semicircle

Atchafalaya
, pronounced CHAFF-uh-lie-uh, as though the "a" is missing, is an Indian word that means great river

Attakapas
comes from the Indian nation that at one time occupied coastal Louisiana from the Sabine River to the Atchafalaya Basin; the standard spelling of this tribe's name is Atakapas and means man-eater, but it is usually spelled Attakapas and is pronounced uh-TACK-uh-paw; early French accounts claim that the Atakapas ate the bodies of enemies they killed in battle but that French missionaries convinced them to stop the practice in the early 1700s; this may be the stuff of legend, especially the French missionary part

au large
means in the open sea or prairie, obviously the latter here

Avoyelles comes from an Indian nation, the Avoyel, who lived in the area now bearing their name; they were kin to the Natchez; their name means people of the rocks or flint people

Baton Rouge means red stick or pole

bayou, from the Choctaw word meaning slow-ass stream, is a small river bordered by wetlands and is sometimes spelled baillou in old records

Bayou Goula is from a Muskogean Indian nation, the Bayougoula, who lived on the site of the town of that name and whose name in Choctaw means bayou people

Beaubassin, on the upper Vermilion east of Carencro, means beautiful basin and was a major Acadian settlement in the Chignecto area near present-day Amherst, Nova Scotia

Bellevue means pretty sight

boeuf means ox or beef

bourbeaux (the proper spelling in French is bourbeux) means muddy

brûlé means burnt

Butte la Rose means hill of the rose or pink hill

Carencro means buzzard or carrion crow and was first used by black slaves

chataignier means chestnut tree

cheniere is a ridge in the salt marshes with oak trees growing on it; chene means oak

chevreuil means deer

chicot means stump or stubble

choupic, properly spelled choupique, pronounced SHOE-pick by the locals, is a large, bony fish also called a mud fish, a bowfin, a grunnion, or a cypress trout, that fights like hell when caught and still provides pleasure for Cajun fishermen

cocodrie means alligator

côte means coast, also hill or mound; this term was used in Canada beginning in the 17th century to designate a series of dwellings along a river; the Acadians adopted it and took it with them to Louisiana

coteau
means hill or mound

Côte aux Puces, near New Iberia,  means flea hill or flea coast

Côte Gelée means frozen hill or frozen coast

Courtableau, pronounced core-TAHB-luh by the locals, is a French Creole family name

cypremort means dead cypress tree

des cannes means reeds or stalks

des écores means the banks of a stream

des glaises means a kind of loamy clay, silty loam, or silty marl, so it probably refers to the kind of soil that settlers found along the bayou

Faquetaique evidently is a family name

Fausse Pointe means false point

Fausse Riviére means false river and is an oxbow lake in Pointe Coupee Parish that once was the main channel of the Mississippi River

Grand Chevreuil means big deer; the prairie also was called Gros Chevreuil, which means the same thing

Grosse Tete means big head

Iberia is the peninsula in southwestern Europe on which Spain and Portugal are found

isle means island; it is often spelled île 

Jack is ... Jack

Mamou is the coral tree, which is a medicinal plant used for colds and bronchial ailments

Mermentau was the name of an Atakapas chief of the late 1700s; he was sometimes called Nementou or Nementau

Mississippi is an Indian word that means big damn river

Nezpique, pronounced NEP-uh-kee by the locals, means tattooed nose (I was born only a couple of miles west of this bayou, so I know how to say it)

Opelousas comes from an Indian nation, the Opelousa, who lived on the prairies near the town that bears their name; the name means black leg or hot place, depending on the anthropological source you consult

peigner means to comb or to card, so peigneur may mean someone who combs or cards wool or cotton

Petite Anse means little cove; the bayou at Avery Island is the scene of the delightful 1949 movie, "Louisiana Story"

Plaisance is a Spanish Creole family name

plaquemine means persimmon, so Plaquemine Brûlé means burnt persimmon

Pointe Coupée means cut point, that is, where the Mississippi River cut itself a new channel across a point of land

prairie to the Acadians/Cajuns also means meadow or grass land

Queue de Tortue means tail of the turtle or line of turtles; the bayou's name probably comes from the Atakapas chief Célestin la Tortue, who sold land along the bayou to early settlers of what is now Vermilion and Acadia parishes; Bayou Queue de Tortue flows southwestward through the prairie region and meets the Mermentau River just north of the town of Lake Arthur; it forms the boundary between Lafayette and Acadia parishes and Vermilion and Acadia parishes and should not be confused with Bayou Tortue, which is a much shorter stream that flows north past St. Martinville and into Vermilion Bayou east of Lafayette

rouge means red

salé means salty

Sorrel is a French Creole family name, but it also means a sour, fleshy-leafed plant used in salads, or a reddish-brown horse

tasse means coffee cup

Teche is an Atakapas Indian word that means worm or snake and is not related in any way to the German language

tortue means turtle

vermilion is a bright yellowish red color; the Vermilion is a bayou above Pinhook Bridge at Lafayette and a river below the bridge; it flows south into Vermilion Bay; Vermilion Parish was named after the river, not the color

Ville Platte means flat town; the actual French spelling for flat is plate

[top of page]