The indigenous people that inhabited the land that many of us in Northeastern Pennsylvania call home were the Lenni-Lenape. The Lenape inhabited the region which stretches from southern New York all the way through Eastern Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey down to Delaware. The Lenape are divided into three sub-tribes: the Minsi (or Munsee), the Unami, and the Unalachtigo. The Munsee inhabited the northern part of Pennsylvania, specifically the area around Scranton. These peoples called this region home for centuries before being forced into Ohio, Canada and other locations further west. But they left a number of their place-names behind. Many of these place-names have been so thoroughly incorporated in American English that many people are not aware of their indigenous origins. It is in honor of Native American Heritage Month that we will explore the meanings of a few place-names close to home:
Tunkhannock, a borough in Wyoming County, PA, is derived from the Lenape word “Ptuk’hanna’unk,” which translates to “bend-in-river-place.”
2. Susquehanna River
At over 400 miles long, the Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. It’s name comes from the Lenape word “siskuwihane,” which translates to “swift river from the mountains.”
From the river to the county, the term “Lackawanna” is ubiquitous in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is derived from a Lenape term that translates to “stream that forks.” Appropriately, the Lackawanna river does indeed fork. The river rises in two branches along the modern boundaries of the Susquehanna and Wayne county lines. At around 40 miles in length, the Lackawanna river is the major tributary of the Susquehanna River and a major waterway for both modern and historic peoples of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The Poconos are home to mountainous terrain and beautiful waterfalls. It is also an important ancestral home for many indigenous peoples. Its name is derived from a Lenape term that means “a creek between two hills,” or in this case, mountains.
5. Mauch Chunk (now known as Jim Thorpe)
The contemporary American Folk Art painting pictured below depicts the modern-day town of Jim Thorpe, which was informally called “Coalville” in the 1800s due to its importance in transporting anthracite coal. The original name of the town was Mauch Chunk, or “Machktschunk,” a Lenape term meaning “Bear Mountain.” The namesake was given because of a ridge that resembled a sleeping bear. The town’s name officially changed in 1954 to Jim Thorpe to honor the Native American Olympic gold medalist.
6. Nay Aug Park
Nay Aug Park is the largest park in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The park’s name is derived from a Native American term which translates to “noisy water” or “roaring brook.” The Everhart Museum resides in Nay Aug Park and sits on the ancestral homeland of the Munsee-Delaware Nation and Lenni-Lenape peoples.
For More Information on the Lenape:
Written by Francesca Saldan, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.