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Where Does the Name “Savannah” Come From?

Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia, established in 1733. It was named around the same time as the Savannah River, and for a time was the southernmost commercial port in the original 13 colonies. It was also one of the first two (along with Augusta) state capitals of Georgia.

But where exactly did the name come from? There are several possibilities:

  • Some believe the name “Savannah” derived from a group of Shawnee Indians who migrated to the Piedmont region in the 1680s. They destroyed the Westo Indians and occupied established Westo lands at the Savannah River’s head of navigation on the fall line, near present-day Augusta. These Shawnee were called by several variant names that all derive from their native name, Ša·wano·ki (literally, “southerners”). The local variants included Shawano, Savano, Savana and Savannah.
  • Another theory is that the name was derived from the English term “savanna,” a kind of tropical grassland, which was borrowed by the English from Spanish sabanaand used in the colonial southeast. The Spanish word was borrowed from the Taino word zabana.
  • Still others interpret the name Savannah to come from Atlantic coastal tribes, who spoke Algonquian languages, as there are similar terms meaning not only “southerner,” but perhaps “salt.”

No matter where you think the name came from, there’s no escaping the fact that Savannah has – over the centuries – blossomed into a city of the arts. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been a major factor in this renaissance, with the college and its students providing the city’s creative heartbeat. SCAD also plays host to the annual Savannah Film Festival. The three-week Savannah Music Festival is the state’s largest musical arts event and highlights all types of music. You can also view historic homes, including the residences of such notables as Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, songwriter Johnny Mercer and author Flannery O’Connor. And each March for more than 200 years, Savannah plays host to one of the larges St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world.

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