Sunday, October 7, 2007

Apple #271: Strange Place Names - Walla Walla

I've been noticing lately that there are a lot of towns & cities in the United States that have really odd names. I started to make a list of them. I was thinking I would do one entry on several strange place-names and provide the origin of the name of each town. But I've got enough places on the list that I think that would make for a very long and mish-mashy entry.

So instead I decided that I would give the name-origin of one place-name per entry. I might do entire entries on a few of the names, but in the case of some others, I might append their name-origins to the end of an entry on another topic. It would be a kind of factoid cherry-on-top, if you will.

Anyway, let's start with Walla Walla, Washington, shall we?

Where Walla Walla, Washington is
(Map from the KJ Suffolk sheep farm)

  • The most famous early written record of Walla Walla was when Lewis & Clark wrote home about it. They spelled it Wolla Wollah.
  • The name comes from a word "walatsa," which means "running."
  • Walatsa is a word in the Shahaptian language, which was spoken by several native tribes that lived along the rivers in SE Washington, NE Oregon, and W Idaho. One of those tribes was called the Walla Wallas.
  • I couldn't find enough information to confirm whether the word "running" referred to the nearby Walla Walla River, or the Walla Walla people who lived along it.
  • Walla Walla isn't just a city; it's an entire county and also a river valley in the southeast corner of Washington State.
  • The Walla Walla rivershed, shown in red in the map below, surrounds the Walla Walla River and extends into Oregon.

Much of central Washington's river valley basin is now thriving wine country.
(Map from the Isenhower Cellars in Walla Walla)

I couldn't talk about Walla Walla, Washington without including this classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, Transylvania 6-5000.

(wait for it...)

Lots of good place names in that cartoon. Another one of them was already on my list.

I think I've used the phrase "Walla Walla" more times in this entry than I have in the entire rest of my life.

Sound clip from Nonstick, a great resource for all kinds of Looney Tunes sounds.
Historylink, Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Walla Walla County
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, People of the lower Columbia


  1. Greetings!

    Good blog. I am a native of Walla2, the town they liked so well they named it twice. In all of my 50-some years of living here I have never heard of the "walatsa," which means "running. I am curious about this and where did you locate the info?

    As long as I can remember, from county to city, we have been told that Walla Walla is Nez Perce (also a native tribe) for "place of many waters." In fact, it is documented in WA state literature. Could "running" be confused with the Walla Walla in NSW Australia?


  2. Hi Catie,

    Thanks for your questions. According to the sources I found (see the linked sources listed at the end of the entry -- a practice I indulge with every entry), the Nez Perce were one of several tribes living in the Walla Walla River valley at the time when Lewis & Clark arrived. But they were not the only river-land dwelling folks in the area, again, according to my sources, which includes the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, which confederation includes descendants of the Wollah Wollahs. The main source from which I gleaned the origin of the place-name is Historylink, again, cited at the end of my entry, which is the online resource for Washington State History.

    If these sources are incorrect, perhaps they should be informed of their error?

    I don't think I confused Walla Walla, Washington with Walla Walla, Australia, since I did not know such a place existed until you informed me of it.

    Thanks for your interest, and I hope you'll stay tuned for more unexpected (but documented) revelations!

  3. On the way to and from church each sunday, our family would drive by a place owned by the Washington Water Power Company, with a big sign saying "WWP". My dad always told us it was the Walla Walla Pickle Company. I was probably in my teens before I knew the horrible truth.

  4. Well, there is a Walla Walla Pickle Company, or at least there's something like that mentioned in some sort of patty-cake tune (Google it; you'll find it).

    And if there isn't a Walla Walla Pickle Company in operation in real life, there ought to be.

  5. P.S. forkstealer, I sent you an e-mail, I think to a yahoo address?

  6. Apparently there is another Bugs Bunny Cartoon that mentions Walla Walla... A Mouse Divided. Anyone know where to get a clip or download?

  7. Anonymous, I did a Google search on "A Mouse Divided," and you're right, Walla Walla, Washington is mentioned therein. I didn't find any videos, though. The closest thing I found is here:, which promises pictures from the cartoon, though you have to log in to see them.

    Keep checking, I'm sure someone will upload a clip at some point.


If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!