As you may or may not have learned in school, the name “Idaho” is a bit of a misnomer – the great “Idahoax,” as it were. (See what I did there?) Originally claimed by George M. Willing to be a Shoshoni word which meant “Gem of the Mountains,” Willing later admitted that he had pulled the name out of none other than his posterior nether region.
But aside from state names themselves, every state also has its fair share of unusual city names with unique historical derivations. In fact, Idaho in particular has a number of unique municipalities with Native American and Spanish roots, which provide a glimpse into the traditions and naming practices of yesteryear. Beautifully and aptly named, here are eight of our favorite towns along with their meanings and histories.
1. Ahsahka (Ah-SOCK-Uh)
Ahsahka was established in 1898 on the bank of the Clearwater River. Supposedly named after an old Native American village located nearby, most researchers agree that the name means "forks of a river" or "where two rivers meet," referring to the North and South forks of the Clearwater.
2. Picabo (PEEK-uh-boo)
"Picabo" is a Native American word meaning "shining waters," which is a fitting title for this Idaho microtown. Settled on the banks of Silver Creek, Picabo is home to one of Idaho’s first communities... despite being officially unincorporated. But did you know that the Wood River Valley region also holds more fish per mile than any other river in Idaho?
3. Coeur d'Alene (KOR-duh-LAYN)
The Coeur d'Alene area of Northern Idaho was home to a number of settled Native American tribes. French fur trappers gave one such tribe and their territory the name "Coeur d'Alene" in reference to their shrewd trading expertise with neighboring tribes -- a name which means "heart of the awl." It's also extremely intimidating for outsiders to learn how to spell, much like Pend Oreille.
4. Weippe (WEE-ipe)
Weippe is spelled a number of ways throughout Idaho historical accounts, and for this reason, its meaning is still highly debated. The original spelling of "Oy-ipe" suggests a "very old place;" however, while "oy" means "all" in the Nez Perce language, no meaning has been found for "iap" or "ipe." There may also be a reference to Weippe's prairie-like setting as bountiful hunting grounds.
5. Acequia (Ah-SEE-kwa)
This tiny town in Southern Idaho (only half a square mile in size) has a unique back-and-forth history when it comes to names. After an "enthusiastic" meeting held in 1905 at Scherrer's, a local general store, the town of Acequia just up the canal from the store was elected to be renamed Scherrer in anticipation of opening a new school with the store owner's pioneered support.
In 1907, Scherrer was wiped off the map and returned to its original name of Acequia after a negative vocal response from the town's original railway workers, who collected and delivered a petition requesting the name change. Acequia is a word of Spanish origin which means "water course," referring to the irrigation canal forks which split off of the main water run.
6. Arimo (AIR-uh-moe)
Arimo, much like its county seat Pocatello, is a case of a town named for a prominent local Shoshoni whose name lost its origins before white settlers adopted it as a geographic designation.
7. Cocolalla (koe-koe-LAW-luh)
Cocolalla is a small, unincorporated town near Sandpoint in Northern Idaho. Although the origins of the name aren't entirely known, sources suggest that it is a Coeur d'Alene Salish phrase which means "very cold" or "deep water."
8. Kooskia (KOO-skee)
This town name is one of the few noted in the journals of Lewis and Clark in 1805, then referring to the river now known as the Clearwater River. The town's moniker is a condensed version of the original Nez Perce name
Koos-Koos-Kia, meaning "where the waters meet." Since Kooskia is nestled in two areas along the middle and south forks of the Clearwater -- one side originally designated for natives, and the other for settlers -- Kooskia is a much more fitting name than the one it started with: Stuart.
There are plenty of towns in the state with historical names and, of course, we can’t list them all here. But if you have some unique names to add to the list – and better yet, the story behind them – we would love to hear about them!