by Megan Keener
When visitors come to Chucalissa, they often ask if Chucalissa was the name of the village that was once on site. As many of you know, Chucalissa means ‘Abandoned House’ in the Choctaw language. The archaeological site was named ‘Abandoned House’ because it was abandoned after 500 years of occupation. Hernando de Soto did not visit the Chucalissa site, but he did visit the surrounding area in the 1500’s, which is why you may see his name all over town.
So what’s in a name? Chucalissa, DeSoto Park, Boxtown, Neshoba, Pink Palace– these names are part of our everyday lives, but what do they mean? DeSoto Park, now known as Chickasaw Heritage Park, is located in downtown Memphis and was named after Hernando de Soto. Children learn about this Spanish explorer in their school lessons, but often do not make the connections to the places they see everyday. The mounds located within the park are called Desoto Mounds, also named after the explorer, though they were built by Native Americans.
Boxtown is a neighborhood located in Southwest Memphis. If you have ever visited Chucalissa, you more than likely drove right past this neighborhood without realizing its historical significance. After World War II, the residents of Boxtown lived in boxcars from trains. These boxcars kept the residents warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is from this that the neighborhood earned its name.
If you have driven through Mississippi, you may have driven through Neshoba County. If you have driven through Germantown, you may have driven down Neshoba Road. Did you know that Neshoba is Choctaw for wolf? Many roads, counties, and cities are named after Native American words, tribes, and famous leaders. While some of these names have been in place for many years, the residents of the community have decided some other names.
Take the Pink Palace for example. Did you know that the Pink Palace first opened its doors as the Memphis Museum? The museum was open for over thirty years under this name, but the citizens of Memphis preferred the nickname ‘Pink Palace’ so named for its Georgian Marble façade. So, after thirty years of being the Memphis Museum, the official name changed to the Pink Palace Family of Museums.
So next time you visit Chucalissa, or drive through Mississippi, or maybe the next time you go for a walk, read the names around you and ask yourself, ‘What’s in a name?’ You may be surprised to find historical origins of your own street or favorite museum!
Megan Keener is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.