MOUNT MORRIS, N.Y., Nov. 23, 2022 — November is Native American Heritage Month, and the County Historian’s Office is recognizing the continuing legacy of Seneca place names in Livingston County.
Canawaugus, Sonyea, and Canaseraga Creek all have something in common – their names are derived from Seneca place names. Canawaugus, Sonyea, and Canaseraga Creek are adapted from original Seneca names, though translated meanings often differ.
Canawaugus, in eastern Caledonia, comes from Go-no-wau-ges or Can-a-wau-gus, translated to “place of stinking water” because of the sulfur springs there. Although it smells like rotten eggs, the water was considered healthful by indigenous people and white settlers.
Sonyea, on Rt. 36 in Groveland, may come from Son-he, a Seneca name meaning “thou art living there,” signifying a favorite dwelling place, or from a Seneca figure named Soneage or Soyeawa. A persistent rumor continues to circulate that the name is an acronym for “State Of New York Epileptic Asylum,” but the name Sonyea was already widely used by the early 1800s, long before Craig Colony for Epileptics opened in 1896.
Canaseraga Creek is said to come from Ga-nus-ga-go, meaning “among the milkweeds” or Can-a-se-ra-ga, “among the slippery elms.” The creek runs through Livingston County from North Dansville to Groveland and Mt. Morris, where it joins the Genesee River.
For more information on place names in Livingston County, contact the County Historian's Office or visit the historian's place names page here: https://www.livingstoncounty.us/1099/Towns-and-Place-Names. For more information about Seneca heritage and culture, visit the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor and the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum and Cultural Center in Salamanca.
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About Livingston County:
Founded in 1821, Livingston County, N.Y., is comprised of more than 61,000 residents in 17 towns located across 631 square miles of the Finger Lakes region.