Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's "Ky-ah-HO-ga" -- the Mohawk say so

Did you see Cleveland Magazine mentioned on the Plain Dealer's front page yesterday? Mike McIntyre, the Tipoff columnist, credited us with a friendly assist as he tried to settle Cleveland's eternal debate: whether the river and the county should be pronounced "Ky-ah-HO-ga" or "Ky-ah-HOG-ah."

McIntyre covers the main points: that West Siders tend to prefer "HOG-ah," while East Siders say "HO-ga." He credited Jimmy Dimora with endorsing "HOG-ah" last week. (During his "diatribe" -- Dimora's own description -- against county Republican leader Rob Frost, my notes show Dimora also reduced the name to three, almost two, syllables: "Ka'HOG-ah" County.)

McIntyre writes, "Cleveland Magazine declared hoag correct after once interviewing a woman who speaks Mohawk. Cuyahoga is derived from an American Indian word." I had tipped him off to one of my proudest discoveries of Cleveland-iana, which we published in our December 2005 "How Cleveland Are You?" quiz:
The most poetic legend claims Cuyahoga is a Mohawk word for “crooked river.” So we called someone who speaks Mohawk: Martha Lickers, curriculum developer at the Ronathahonni Cultural Center in Ahkwesahsne, Ont. The Mohawk word for “big river,” she says, is kahionhowanen, which is pronounced “gah-yo-ho-wah-na.” HO-ga it is.
Gah-yo-ho-wah = Ky-ah-ho-gah. That not only settles the HO-ga vs. HOG-ah debate, it identifies the origin of the river's name! Alas, it's not "crooked river," as the poetic legend goes, just "big river."

No wonder our discovery didn't catch on. The idea that the name means "crooked river" is one of those Cleveland myths we don't want to let go -- like the legend that the bullet holes in Great Lakes Brewing's bar were shot by Eliot Ness.

Speaking of the river: "Burn On," our complete package of stories about the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River Fire, is now online. It's also in the July issue of the magazine. (If you'd like to link to it, here's a shortcut: tinyurl.com/CMriverpackage.)

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