'Arkansas' and 'Little Rock' - Place Names History

Little Rock in 1871

Public domain ~ out of copyright (1871). See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Little_Rock_1871.jpg + http://www.usgwarchives.org/maps/arkansas/
Public domain ~ out of copyright (1871). See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Little_Rock_1871.jpg + http://www.usgwarchives.org/maps/arkansas/ | Source

Why is it easier to understand some place names than others?

Sometimes it is relatively easy to understand why and how a place got its name.

Sometimes it is less easy.

If a place is called 'Hill Top' and it is situated on the top of a hill, then it will not take too much time, effort or imagination to understand why.

Why is it more difficult to understand some places than others?
~ Possibly because the area has changed and a once apt description no longer applies.
~ Possibly because the language is not being understood - ie. the place-name is in one language and the person reading the name speaks another language.

A Little Look at 'Little Rock'

Let us look at 'Little Rock' ~ the name of the capital of Arkansas (and its largest city).

Most English speakers would understand the meaning of the two individual words that make up this name. A 'little rock' might be a stone, or a small boulder, perhaps. It would have to be a very noticeable little stone, though, for it to have stuck as a place name.

Just how 'little' was this little rock?
Why was it so important?
Is it still there?
Was it always known as the 'little rock'.

'The skyline of Little Rock, Arkansas, viewed from the north bank of the Arkansas River' - May 2009 Author: Matthew Field

'The skyline of Little Rock, Arkansas, viewed from the north bank of the Arkansas River' - May 2009 Author: Matthew Field, http://www.photography.mattfield.com 'Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of
'The skyline of Little Rock, Arkansas, viewed from the north bank of the Arkansas River' - May 2009 Author: Matthew Field, http://www.photography.mattfield.com 'Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of

Native Americans

This part of North America was home to Native Americans long before Europeans came onto the scene and, presumably, they would have had their own name for this small, but noticeable, rock formation on the banks of the Arkansas river. Since it is known to have been a useful navigational landmark for early European explorers, one can only assume that it was useful to their predecessors as well.

Bernard de la Harpe et 'La Petite Roche'

Apparently, one of the first European travellers to explore this area was a Frenchman named Bernard de la Harpe, leading a band of other Europeans. This was in 1722 ~ 36 years after a French trading post had been set up at Arkansas Post, not far from the mouth of the Arkansas River ~ and whence the group embarked on their expedition.

In the journal of his voyage, Bernard mentioned a large rock on the north bank of the river. He called it the French rock, but it is now known as 'Big Rock'. He is also believed to have coined the term 'Little Rock', for the smaller rock formation on the the south bank.

Of course, being French, he would have used French terminology, so the big 'French' rock must have been 'La Roche Francaise' and 'Little Rock' was originally 'La Petite Roche' or 'Le Petit Rocher'. So, many English speakers may not have understand the meaning of the three individual words that originally made up the name.

'Little Rock' Made Capital of Arkansas

Arkansas became a territory in 1819. At the time, Arkansas Post was its capital, but the growing settlement of 'Little Rock' was considered a better location and it became capital in 1821. Early inhabitants included local Quapaw and Osage peoples and French settlers.

Is The Little Rock Formation Still There?

Can the original 'little rock' formation still be found?
Just about.
It has been eroded ~ by the river and by construction, it would seem ~ but its site is still there, beside the river and next to the old 'Junction' rail bridge, at the north end of Rock Street. It is part of the Riverfront Park.

You can find it on Google maps and there is a photograph here: http://ree-view.blogspot.com/2009/12/la-petite-roche-little-rock.html

Rock Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Arkansas

Why isn't the meaning of the state name 'Arkansas' immediately obvious to me?

Who thought up the name Arkansas?

Why is it pronounced as it is?

Why isn't it pronounced like Kansas?

Indeed, is there any connection to the state name Kansas?

Language

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes place names are not easily understood 'because the language is not being understood.

By this, I mean that the place-name is in one language, but the person reading the name speaks another language.'

I do not understand the name Arkansas, because I do not know the language whence it comes.

I have, however, attempted to discover its roots, origin, history and meaning.

I have relied upon the information available ~ some of which I found to be contradictory. This is a complex subject and I hope that I have drawn the correct conclusions.

I apologise if I have misunderstood any of it and given any incorrect information..

'Arkansas'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quapaw_beaded_sash_1900s_ok.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quapaw_beaded_sash_1900s_ok.jpg
Quapaw men's beaded moccasins, Oklahoma, ca. 1900, collection of Oklahoma History Center - August 2009 Author: Uyvsdi I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quapaw_mocs_1900_
Quapaw men's beaded moccasins, Oklahoma, ca. 1900, collection of Oklahoma History Center - August 2009 Author: Uyvsdi I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quapaw_mocs_1900_

'Arkansas'

'Arkansas' obtained its name from the Native North Americans who lived in the area, who were also called the Quapaw (Ogahpah, Ugakhpa ). This name seems to have meant "downstream people" ~ ie downstream along the west banks of the Mississippi River.

Before they settled at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Arkansas, the Quapaw are believed to have lived along the banks of the Ohio River ~ alongside certain other tribes, such as the Kansa, the Ponca, the Omaha and the Osage.

The word "Arkansas" is Siouan. It is basically the same word as 'Acansa', which was the name of one of the Quapaw villages.

'Acansa' may have meant "southern place" in the Quapaw language ~ a Dhegiha Siouan language of Arkansas, related to Osage. Sioux is branch of the a Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock.

Non-Quapaw neighbours, mainly the Algonquin and the French, would refer to the whole tribe as 'Acansa' (Arkansas, or Alkansea) ~ after this settlement.

Other native American peoples in this area included the Caddo, the Chickasaw, the Osage, the Tunica and, later, the Cherokee. Other native American place names in Arkansas include Choctaw, Caddo and Ouachita.

Current pronunciation was decided by an act legislature in 1881, since there was some debate about the matter.

According to Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, 'Arkansas' and 'Kansas' share the same 'root' ~ the Kansa people being closely connected with the Sioux people.

Wikipedia states that 'Arkansas' comes from the Quapaw word "akakaze" or the Sioux word "Akakaze", meaning either "land of downriver people" or "people of the south wind".

Little Rock, Arkansas

Arkansas on the Map

Map of USA - AR This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_AR.svg
Map of USA - AR This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_AR.svg

Kansas on the Map

Map of USA - KS. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_KS.svg
Map of USA - KS. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_KS.svg

Mississippi on the Map

Map of USA - MS This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_MS.svg
Map of USA - MS This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_USA_MS.svg

Comments 6 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

I always wondered about the pronounciation of "are-can-saw" when I lived in the USA. No doubt we mystify millions of visitors in the UK with some of our villages and towns...I'll never forget the porter or guard on the Chatham train calling out "Moffem," for Meopham, and there are scores more...I still can't get "Mousehole" right or Ilfracombe...Something like "Muzzle," and Ufracumbie?" fancy a hub on those? Bob


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

I have been to Mousehole and Ilfracombe a few times.

I pronounce the former: 'Mowzel'.

I didn't know about Ilfracombe ~ I just say 'Ilfracoom'.

How about Cholmondeley Castle ~ pronounced Chumley?


ama83 profile image

ama83 6 years ago from San Jose, CA

I am always intrigued by the history of words and names. It's fascinating to know where and how they came about.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Me, too Ama!!

I find the subject really interesting :)


arkansas rules 3 years ago

it gives me the info i need


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 3 years ago from The English Midlands Author

That's great, arkansas rules :)

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