Sunday, August 2, 2009

What's in a name??

I have spent all my life hearing and reading that the word "HATCHIE" is a Native American word meaning “river”. This is aledgedly how the Hatchie River got its name. I always thought that was pretty cool.

A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me a bumper sticker. My friend lives in Brownsville Tennessee. The sticker is popular among the locals in Brownsville and was created by one of their own. The sticker is in the obvious shape of a snapping turtle. Scrawled creatively across its back are the words “LOVE HATCHIE RIVER”. I had a fit over the bumper sticker and just had to have one, so my friend Joe gave me one.

As my curiosity about the Hatchie River has grown over the years, I decided it would be cool to know how to express my new favorite bumper sticker in the Chickasaw language; the language of those first to love this river. Now that would be cool!

There seemed to be one small problem. The word "HATCHIE" is not a Native American word! I searched all the documents and internet sources I could find. I tore through genealogy departments of the public libraries in Tipton County, Haywood County and finally Madison County searching for documents that might lead me to understand this mystery; the mystery of the origin of the name of the Hatchie River.

It was in Madison Counties Public Library genealogy department that I found a breakthrough. It came in the form of a book called:

“A Chickasaw Dictionary compiled by Jesse Humes and Vinnie May (James) Humes ~ 1973 Chickasaw Nation”.

This volume became the Rosetta Stone for me. In pouring over web sites and map archives looking for a clue among different names given to the river by early explorers, a pattern emerged. Armed with these pieces of the puzzle, I have developed this theory.

1) Many places in our country and around the world use derivatives of original names assigned from earlier explorers of different nationalities; eg. Acadia was once the French Acadie for example.
2) The name of the river has changed through the years: In 1813, just prior to the Jackson Purchase of 1818, (when the Chickasaw Indians ceded the land of West Tennessee to the United States) the name appears on a map as "HATCHY River" (

In 1823 the name of the river picks up an unexpected word in its title and changes its spelling as it appears on a map by B. T. Welch and published by Fielding Lucas, Jr. of Baltimore; "BIG HATCHEE River".

The three word name continues to be used until at least 1899 where it appears again with the same spelling in the eighteenth annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, in which the title remained "BIG HATCHEE River".

In the current day and time the title has dropped the adjective “BIG” and has undergone another revision in its spelling. The title is now simply, "HATCHIE River".

3) The Chickasaw word that is used to refer to a river, stream or creek is "BOKOSHI". That’s fine, but what is most interesting is the pronunciation of the word. It is pronounced BOHK – OSH – E. Here is where I have made the leap. Without using too much imagination one can see that this pronunciation sounds a lot like BIG HATCHEE.

My conclusion: the 21st Century name “HATCHIE” is a derivative of the 18th Century English “BIG HATCHIE” which in turn could be a derivative of the centuries old “BOKOSHI”.

Again, the word "HATCHIE" is not a Native American word meaning “river”. The word does not appear anywhere in the Muskoegean language group. However, the similar sounding word BOKOSHI, heard, imitated and mutilated by early trappers, explorers and settlers does, in fact, mean...RIVER!


  1. Then what is your explanation for Loosahatchie, Tallahatchie and all the other Chickasaw named watercourses in North Mississippi and West Tennessee containing "hatchie"? I, too, have been told all my life that "hatchie" (however you spell it) meant "river" in Chickasaw.

  2. Oops -- forgot about Alabama. Quick internet search turns up the following "Hatchie" based watercourses there, too (also notes that "Hatchie" means river or water in several Southeastern tribal languages, including Cherokee): Buttahatchee River,
    Buxahatchee Creek, Cheneyhatchee Creek, Choctawhatchee River, Chubbehatchee Creek, Cubahatchee Creek, Hatchechubbee Creek, Hatchet (Hatchie?) Creek, Hillabahatchee Creek, Ohatchee Creek, Tallaseehatchee Creek, and Waxahatchee Creek.