WHAT'S IN A NAME?
by Frank Howard
April 21, 1995
Many place names in present day Florida are not the same as they were many years ago. But on the other hand, many not only sound as if they are the same, but really are the old name given the inability of speakers of one language to pronounce certain sounds/works in another language. For instance, Wakulla is a word which certainly sounds as if it may be a proper word in some native tongue.
However, the Spanish noted that the Apalachee referred to the area as the earlier home of a group called the Guacarra. Recall these folk spoke with very little movement of the lips, so hold your mouth open, don't move your lips and say Guacarra 10 times! Now you see why no one can be sure if the name Wakulla is our own corruption of the name the Apalachees gave the Spanish or if it really is the word "loon" or some other word now lost to history.
There are many such names in modern day Florida. Such as Chattahoochee! Using that as a statement it translates to "place of the carved or marked stone." Was there at one time a carved stele located there at the mounds such as those at Etowah Mounds (Georgia) and Crystal River Mound or did it just refer to the natural markings on the rocks in the river there as is written elsewhere?
Of course there is the word Tallahassee. We are told of the legend that the present spelling was determined by the daughter of a territorial governor of Florida. But the word or phrase was certainly in existence and was used to denote an "old town" or "old fields". Yet there was a town in very recent existence at that time called Tallahassa Taloofa (located probably near present day Tallahassee Mall laying through from the Monticello Drive hill over toward the North Florida Christian School). That town seems to have been one man's attempt to retain a Spanish presence in the midst of the incoming English in the late 18th century.
Other words or names come to us much changed such the name of some Spaniard's ranch; Ranchero de la Chua. Alachua! Chua refers to a sinkhole. So, the Ranch of the Sinkhole became Alachua, a town and a county.
Then there are the ones that are just fun to try to trace such as Apopka. One finds it listed as Aha (potato) papka (eating place). But perhaps the real one is Tsala Papka (trout eating place). As others have already said the latter certainly looks best considering the beautiful lake and its fish population.
There are many of these throughout the state and some are not Indian but early Spanish such as Cape Canaveral. The Spanish saw Indians growing cane there and simply named it Cape Cane Plantation. This name appears on very early maps of Florida.