PDF version  

  Previous lesson  

  Next lesson  

  Main menu  

  RLA home  

  N.C. Curriculum Alignment  

Lesson 4.7

Subjects: social studies, language arts.
Skills: knowledge, analysis, evaluation.
Strategies: observation, discussion, mapping, compare and contrast.
Duration: 45 minutes.
Class Size: any, groups of 4 to 5.

Firing mechanism from Stokes County, North Carolina, AD 1650-1700.


This lesson contrasts and compares the names that Native Americans living in North Carolina gave to their villages and places with the names that European and other settlers gave to theirs. In a study of North Carolina place and village names, students will use a state map to:


For the teacher, one large state road map. For each group of students, a North Carolina road map, copies of "Native American Place Names" and "Settler Place Names," along with stars or paper dot markers in two colors.


Echoes of North Carolina's past peoples linger today in a place's name. Whether towns, rivers, meadows, or mountains, the names given to locations in North Carolina are derived from a variety of sources. Some come from Indian words, which usually describe the landscape or qualities of the area, such as Nantahala, meaning "land of the noonday sun," or Cullowhee, meaning "place of the lilies." Others are taken from commodities or natural resources that were produced by the settlers, such as Sapphire or Cranberry. Still other names are derived from the influence of the English, European, and African settlers, such as Jefferson and Jackson Springs, or from military and religious history.

A name is a word or group of words by which a person, thing, or place is known. Everything has a name which identifies it to others, and it is through names that people can communicate with and understand one another. Names help people tell stories about the past. For example, the town of Silk Hope in Chatham County was probably named before the Civil War, when there was an interest in producing home-grown silk. Sometimes, however, the original meanings of names have been lost. Some Indian place names continued to be used by European settlers, but over time people forgot what the words originally meant. For example, Chockoyotte Creek, which flows into the Roanoke River, is believed to be a Tuscarora word, but its meaning is no longer known.

Setting the Stage

Show students the names and origins of two towns. For example, Jugtown, a small community in Moore County, was named for the hand-turned pottery that has been produced in that area for several centuries. Tuckasegee--the name of a river, a lake, and a community in western North Carolina--is the Cherokee word meaning "crawling terrapin." What differences, if any, do students notice about the names?


1. Give each group of 4 to 5 students a state road map, dots or stars, and a copy of "Native American Place Names" and "Settler Place Names." Show students how to find a particular place by looking up the name and coordinates on the map index. Depending upon the amount of time you wish to spend on the exercise, you may wish to assign each group only three or four names from each of the two lists.

2. Working cooperatively, students place a star or dot on the map next to each listed place they find. Native American place names should be marked with stars or dots of one color, while European settler place names should be marked with stars of another color.

3. Display a large state map, and ask each group to share two or three places they have found. As the students call out the names and their meanings, place a star on the map.


In class discussion or in quiz form, ask students to contrast and compare place names derived from Native American culture and those derived from European or other settlers.


Have students turn in their maps for evaluation.


Lesson 4.6: "Language Families."


Powell, William S. 1968. The North Carolina Gazetteer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Smith, Shelley J., Jeanne M. Moe, Kelly A. Letts, and Danielle M. Paterson. 1993. Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher's Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior. [This lesson is adapted from "State Place Names" on pp. 127-130, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.]

Ward, H. Trawick, and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. 1999. Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [The image in this lesson's main heading is taken from Figure 7.13.]

Activity Sheets for Lesson 4.7

"Native American Place Names." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

"Settler Place Names." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

  PDF version  

  Previous lesson  

  Next lesson  

  Main menu  

  RLA home  

  N.C. Curriculum Alignment