French Place Names In Oklahoma

spavinaw, olahoma

In the Dictionary of French Place Names in The U.S.A., René Coulet Du Gard writes that the first Frenchmen who came to the United States can be divided into three categories: the mainly Canadian-born trappers and wood scouts or "coureurs des bois," the missionaries, and those serving the House of France.

Du Gard states, "In a great number of instances, the French used the Indian names that already existed, and with amusing results; these names incorrectly pronounced (or rather pronounced 'a la francaise') gave birth to new appellations, which sometimes puzzled scholars."

He lists a number of Oklahoma place names with French origins.  Though some of the name origins may be debatable, and some only existed for short periods (the post office in Algiers, a place near Skiatook, was established on May 10th, 1904 and was discontinued December 31st, 1904), they shed light on the French influence in our state's history.  Here are a few selections from the Oklahoma entries: 

Bonton

From The French "bon ton" (good taste, good style).  The P.O. was established September 8th, 1899. The present name is Ramona and was adopted December 9th, 1899. 

Hugo

This  town was named for Victor Hugo, a French writer. The P.O. was established on November 1st, 1901. 

Pensee

From the French "pensée" meaning "thought," named by a French Canadian postmaster, Jacob Descombes. The original name was Waco and then later was changed to Chickasha

Poteau

It is believed it was named by early French settlers to indicate "le poteau de guerre" (war post), referring to the stake or post in the middle of an Indian village, around which the warriors danced.  Some toponymists, though, said that "poteau" indicated the stick, or post, marking a trading post at the mouth of the river which bears that name. P.O established October 27th, 1887. 

Spavinaw

The name is a corruption of the French "Cep Vineux" (red shoots of vine), referring to the reddish colors of the oak groves. P.O. established March 14th, 1892. 

Spavinaw photograph from the Beryl Ford Collection

 

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