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The Name Chenoa

Q: Hi, I have been looking for names for babies as I am due to have one in February, and came across the name Chenoa on the Internet. Then I found your web-site saying Chenoa does NOT mean dove. I am wondering, though, what DOES it mean? Is it a Native American name or word, or is it from another language, or was it invented by someone? I still think it's a pretty-sounding name but would not want to name my child something I did not know the meaning of. I have looked up the name on the internet and everywhere I go it says dove, white dove, white bird, bird of peace, or morning dove. Can you help me?

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A: Nobody knows exactly where the name "Chenoa" originally came from. Baby name books seem to claim that it means "white dove" or "dove of peace" or something like that in Cherokee. It doesn't-- actually it doesn't mean anything in Cherokee-- and as far as I know, it's not a traditional name at all. I've never heard of anyone named this born before about 1975. "Dove" is "Woya" in Cherokee, for what that's worth; "mourning dove" is "Guledisgonihi," and "white dove" is "Woya Unega." Native American names often do get mangled a lot on their way into English, but I can't see how even the worst language learner could have turned "Woya" into "Chenoa."

So where did the name Chenoa really come from? Well, there is a town in Illinois called Chenoa, which is probably the source of the name. Unfortunately, the origin of the town's name is not clear either. Local history suggests Chenoa may have been named after another town in Kentucky, where the town's founder came from. The Kentucky town's name might well have originally come from a Cherokee name, since there were many Cherokee people living in Kentucky. If so, though, whatever the original Cherokee name might have been has been lost to time.

It does sound pretty, though. If you like the sound of it, I wouldn't reject it as a baby name just because it doesn't have an identifiable etymology. Many children are named after place names these days.

Hope that helps!
Native Languages of the Americas

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 Native American baby names
 Cherokee language
 Cherokee alphabet
 Cherokee Indians
 American Indian birds

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