Kayenta: What’s in a (street) name?
Those of us who choose to live in Kayenta are accustomed to the wandering layout of the community as a result of morning walks with four-legged friends; pulse-pounding bike rides from Highway 91 northward to the highest reaches of the neighborhood; or just through simple, relaxing evening strolls at sunset. And most of us at one point or another have been intrigued and even amused by the quirky street names we encounter.
So, whether you live in Taviawk (“setting sun”); Posovi (“canyon corners”); Shonto (“sunshine springs”)or Kwavasa (“eagle’s landing”), you’ve undoubtedly scratched your head on more than one occasion and wondered how some of Kayenta’s streets were christened with such unusual names.
Much of the underlying research supporting the selection of Kayenta street names has been done by Silvia Wasden, who’s been part of the community since the late 1990s. Silvia has filled a variety of roles over the years, and she currently greets visitors during weekdays to the model home on Paiute. Using Hopi (and other native American) dictionaries as well as other resources, she creates a short list of names based upon a variety of factors, including the way they sound as well as their translation from English. Ultimately, the lists are submitted to the team at Kayenta Development, who determines which names to use and where to assign them.
Of course, many of our street names need no translation and little explanation or justification. Given our geographical location in the desert southwest, it makes perfect sense that streets honoring native American Indian tribes (such as Paiute; Cochise; Osage; Shawnee; Shoni;) and legends and customs (Kokopelli; Soaring Eagle; Wind Dancer; Crows Wing) can be found winding across the desert sagebrush and over culverts and ravines.
Similarly, should you reside in either the extreme southeast or southwest corners of Kayenta, you’ll likely live on a street that has adopted a native plant as its namesake (think Sage; Indigo; Wisteria in Willow Springs and Yucca; Agave; Mallow; Penstemon; and Cliffrose in lower Taviawk). Wicasa (“strong men” and “protector of nations” may be an exception, but this long arching street intersects Talasi (“corn-tassel flower”) and Yamka (“blossom”).
No one who’s lived here for any length of time and heard early morning baying from a distant wash or who’ve had to hit their brakes to allow a reptile to slither across the hot asphalt would question the selection of the Indian word for coyote (“shinava”) or rattlesnake (“towab”) as community street names.
The towering red cliffs above evoke a sense of awe and spirituality from both local residents and prospective buyers alike. Street names such as Tobats Kan (“home of the gods”); Taiowa (“sun god”); Tuweap (“earth”) Timpe (“rocks”); and Pahrus (“bubbling water”) emphasize the connection between stone and sky, heaven and earth. The translation of the street name Tuomppian is less clear, though there is an Indian word “tuompiav” that translates as “sky” and would therefore align with this theme.
Meanwhile, two of Posovi’s street names, Pavasiya (“song of creation”); and Talatawi (“song to the rising sun”) make one wonder what exactly their melodies might sound like on a windy day.
Sipala is often times (mis)translated? from Hopi to English as “peace”, though some scholars claim that the correct translation is “peach” instead…a pleasant-sounding street name regardless of which side of the argument you land on.
We referred to the feathered origins of Kwavasa above, but other neighboring streets are also named after birds, such as Keleva (“sparrow hawk”); Mochni (“talking bird”); Talachiro (“hot weather bird”); Chosovi (“bluebird”); and Pachua (“feathered water snake”…whatever that is!). And what about Kotori? The generally accepted translation from Hopi to English is “screech owl” but in fact the spelling of the Indian word is “tokori”.
One of the more curious street names in Kayenta is Big Soldier Court. You can stand in front of this street sign and look in every direction and draw a blank. So, what’s the back story here? According to developer Terry Marten, a local man from the nearby Shivwits Indian reservation worked on many different projects during the early days of Kayenta’s development. His name was Joe Big Soldier; naming a street after him was deemed a unique way to honor his numerous contributions and legacy.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll have a new appreciation for the streets that connect us to each other the next time you’re out and about in the neighborhood.