Native Place Names

Welcome to Lake Union or “Little Water = ha-ah-chu

Explore the history of the lake through the words of the Duwamish tribe or ha-ah-chu AHBSH which means “People of the Littlest Lake.”


Outlet = gWáXWap (lit. ‘leak [at] bottom end’)

This was the outlet of a stream, known to settlers as Ross Creek, that emptied Lake Union into Salmon Bay and was the passageway of severalruns of salmon (chum, pink, Chinook, and coho).

Deep for Canoes = Tlupeel7weehL

Although this name is similar to Deep (entry 5), the difference matters. Such distinctions were critical to correct navigation and the sharing of information. According to the maps created by the General Land Office in the 1850s, there was a trail near here that skirted the southern slope of Queen Anne Hill on its way to Elliott Bay.

Trail to the Beach = scHákWsHud (lit. ‘the foot end of the beach’)

A trail from Little Prarie ended here. An elderly indigenous man named Tsetseguis, a close acquaintance of the David Denny family, lived here with his family in Seattle’s early years, when the south end of Lake Union was dominated by Denny’s sawmill.

Small Lake = XáXu7cHoo (lit. ‘small great-amount-of-water’)

This is the diminutive form of the word used to denote Lake Washington, in keeping with the lakes’ relative sizes.

Deep = sTLup

This is a typically no-nonsense description of the place where the steep slope of Capitol Hill descends into the waters of Lake Union.

Jumping over Driftwood = saxWabábatS (lit. ‘jump over the tree trunk’)

The Lake Union shoreline was thick with logs here.

Jumping Down = saxWsaxWáp

A similar placename, was used for a Suquamish gaming site on Sinclair Inlet across Puget Sound; that name refers to a contest in which participants vied to see who could jump the farthest off a five-foot-high rock.

Marsh = spáhLaXad

The wetlands on the south shore of Portage Bay must have been a fine place for hunting waterfowl. Chesheeahud, or “Lake Union John,” owned several acres here from at least 1880 until 1906, a fact commemorated in a “pocket park” at the foot of Shelby Street by a plaque and depictions of salmon by an artist of the Puyallup tribe.

Lowered Promontory = sKWiTSaqs

The “top” of Lake Union seems an odd place for a “low” name, but the word for this place most likely refers to the point’s relationship to the surrounding, and much higher, landscape. Long before white settlers envisioned a canal linking Lake Washington and Lake Union, indigenous people used this corridor to travel between the backcountry and the Sound.

Croaking = waQeeQab (lit. ‘doing like a frog’)

Perhaps this small creek on the north side of Portage Bay was known for its amphibious inhabitants, or perhaps it burbled in a way that reminded local people of frogs. The site might also have had religious significance; Frog was a minor spirit power that helped even the most common folk sing during winter ceremonies. A man named Dzakwoos, of “Indian Jim Zackuse,” whose descendants include many members of the modern Snoqualmie Tribe, had a homestead here until the 1880s.

Prarie = báWab

This was one of several small prairies maintained in what is now Seattle; as such, it was likely an important site for cultivating and gathering roots and other foods that indigenous people propagated through burning and transplanting. The right to dig and burn on prairies typically passed down through women.

Extended from the Ridge = sTácHeecH

Now the site of Gas Works Park, this point was described as leaning against the slope of the Wallingford neighborhood like a prop to hold up part of a house.

Thrased Waters = CHaxW7álqoo or Covered Water = scHooxW7álqoo

People drove fish into this narrow, brushy stream by thrashing the water with sticks. The stream now flows in a pipe somewhere under the streets of the Fremont neighborhood.



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