Where did that word come from anyway? And how do you pronounce it?

The authors of the book, Appalachia: A regional Geography, indicate that the Appalachian Mountains were first named by Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. Some believe that it may have been Hernando DeSoto himself, among the first to explore the southern Appalachians, who took the name of the Indian village or tribe of Apalachee in northern Florida and applied it to what we now know as the Appalachian Mountains. [See this page: Northwest Florida Place Names of Indian Origin - Apalachee]

According to the Tennessee Chronicles page, it was because of the Mobilian Trade Language used by the native guides that De Soto mistakenly assumed the Appalachee tribe in Florida was the native culture of the Southeast and named the Appalachian Mountains after the tribe. 

There is a bit of disagreement about how the name is pronounced. Laurie Potteiger of the ATC sums it up thusly: "In general Southerners tend to say it like, 'I'll throw an apple AT ya,' whereas Northerns say it the other way, with a long 'a.' The dividing line is thought to be the Mason Dixon line, although you won't find many people in the Washington, DC area using the Southern pronunciation."

Earl Shaffer, in Walking With Spring, discusses the pronunciation in the following anecdote:

"A young couple was sitting in a car [at Humpback Mountain Overlook,] giving the impression they were honeymooners. The man said, 'Howdy,' so I stopped to talk. Mention of the Trail brought on a discussion as to the proper pronunciation of Appalachian. The lady, who spoke with a Deep South accent, used the pronunciation derived from the Appalachee Indian Tribe, the original source. The man, definately a northerner, said she would think so, coming from the South where, 'They always mess up the language.' I agreed with her but didn't say so."

The Random House unabridged dictionary lists both pronunciations.

There's a cute sign that someone put up in the bathroom at ATC's headquarters which reads, "In about 40 miles, the Appalatchin Trail becomes the Appalayshun Trail. It you still love it as much, thank a volunteer maintainer."

The spelling of the word also presents a problem. The funniest spelling I remember ever seeing was "Islolation" on a piece of mail that came to the ATC from the IRS!! The spelling problem is not new. On a 1719 map by John Senex the mountains are labeled, "The Apalitean Mountains." A 1735 Henry Popple map spells it "Apalachian."


Thanks to Janice Charlton for inquiring about the pronunciation and origin of "Appalachian" and to Laurie Potteiger for coming up with the quote by Earl Shaffer.

Raitz, Karl and Ulack, Richard, Appalachia: A regional Geography, Westview Press, 1984.

Crawford, James M., The Mobilian Trade Language used by Indians of the Mississippi Valley, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1978.

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