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French Names

The 1541-42 visit of Hernando de Soto’s company did not leave in its wake

any place names.

Instead it was the French, whether Catholic missionaries, explorers, soldiers

at Arkansas Post, or trappers, who left a colorful legacy in our state’s place

names. Mostly the French influence can be seen in the southern half of the

state, especially in names of waterways, such as the L’Anguille River, named

for the eels there, and Cossatot, from the French slang for tomahawk. Of

course the French word Bayou finds its way into the Bayou Bartholomew and

Bayou Meto.

Place names like Maumelle and Mount Magazine are based on French words

describing their shape.

As more English speakers settled in the state, many French names either fell

into disuse, like Fourche a Loupe, or had their pronunciations anglicized in

ways that are very different from their French originals, the most famous

being Smackover and Petit Jean, both of which we will visit again.

Daniel Boice, University of Arkansas at Monticello