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Lenape Stream Names by Jack Kearney

Western Pennsylvania was an Iroquois hunting ground in the early 1700s. By the mid-1700s, Indian towns had been established by the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee and there were temporary cabins and storehouses set up by fur traders.


A little later there were also a few Moravian missionaries who visited or even lived with the Indians in an effort to convert them to Christianity. One of them, John Heckewelder lived with the Delaware Indians for fifteen years. The Delaware called themselves Lenape, which is pronounced as if spelled lun-NAH-pay. Heckewelder spent the last years of his life writing about the Lenape and their language including one piece that showed names the Lenape had given to rivers, streams, and places where they lived. It was published by the American Philosophical Society in 1833. The following examples, as presented by Heckewelder, are stream names most of us are very familiar with:

Neshanok. . . . . .Nischhannok, two adjoining streams

Buffalo Creek. . . Sisiliehanne, buffalo creek, resort of the buffalo

Pine Creek. . . . . .Cuweuhanne, pine creek


So how did the Lenape say the words Nischhannok, Sisiliehanne, and Cuweuhanne? Heckewelder said that trying to learn the Lenape language one word at a time is a mistake. He said the best way is to first live with them for many months to develop a ‘Lenape ear’ and then learn the language. Fortunately, now we can go to the Lenape Talking Dictionary to be better informed. The Talking Dictionary is located on the Official Web Site of the Delaware Tribe of Indians. The screenshot on the following page shows the results of a Talking Dictionary search for the English word Neshannock. It found the Lenape word Nishhanek and identified it as meaning Neshannock (PA); ‘double creek’.


When you click on the speaker icon in the results box, a native speaker will say the Lenape word Nishhanek (on the actual site, not this screenshot).




There are no direct matches for Buffalo Creek or Pine Creek, but a search for the English word buffalo shows the Lenape word sisilia and a search for the word pine shows the Lenape word kuweike. Hanne is one of the Lenape words for flowing water or a stream of flowing water. It is pronounced as if spelled HA-nay. After reading Heckewelder and listening to the Talking Dictionary, it sounds to me that the Lenape said the names Nischhannok, Sisiliehanne, and Cuweuhanne something like this:

Neesh-HA-neck

See-SEEL-e-yah-HA-nay

Coo-WAY-oo-HA-nay ( like the oo in moon)


To learn more, follow this link to Heckewelder’s listing of river, stream, and place names. It includes names for over 180 Pennsylvania rivers, streams, and places. You can learn more about the Lenape language by going to this link for The Lenape Talking Dictionary

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