Our previous blog on Louisiana cities and towns with unusual names just scratched the surface.
French explorers named Maringouin (“mosquito”) for the pesky swarms of the insects they encountered there. Other towns with interesting French names are Cocodrie, meaning “alligator,” and Grosse Tete, or “big head.” The latter refers to the black-bellied plover that migrates to the nearby Atchafalaya River Basin from northern Maine, where, interestingly enough, the bird is also commonly called an American big head.
American Indian influence is found in a few places’ names. Bogalusa is named for Washington Parish’s Bogue Lusa creek, which is Choctaw for “dark” or “smoky water.” Another town with a named tied to the Choctaw is Shongaloo, which is said to be a derivative of shakaio—the Choctaw word for cypress tree. Catahoula, a name for both a Louisiana town and parish, is Choctaw for “sacred lake.”
Away from ethnicity, however, some towns just have interesting stories tied to their names. Plain Dealing is said to be named after a plantation formed nearby in the late 1830s by a family from the East Coast. The plantation’s name—that of the family’s former plantation in Virginia—referred to a plain dealing or principle of conducting business with honesty and integrity.
Located in Jefferson Davis Parish, Roanoke (as in American history’s “the lost colony of”) is said to have also been named by settlers who migrated from Virginia. Similarly, eastern Calcasieu Parish settlers named Iowa after the northern Midwest state from which they migrated. Oddly enough, Louisiana’s Iowa has a long “a” (pronounced eye-way).
White Castle is another town with a name tied to a former antebellum plantation. Historical accounts say the white castle was the area’s most notable structure, a massive gabled and columned mansion with encircling galleries and a quarter-mile driveway lined with willow trees. The mansion no longer exists. It was moved four times during the early 1800s due to flooding threats from the Mississippi River, and the home decreased in size with each move until, allegedly, it was eventually reduced to two somewhat ordinary sized houses on the other side of town. But the former mansion’s heritage lives on indirectly—Nottoway Plantation in White Castle is the largest surviving antebellum home in the South.