Monongahela Derived from Indians


Morgantown Dominion Post
14 March 2011
By Eevlyn Ryan

“ ’Ole Mon River” gets its start in Fairmont and winds its way north 128 miles to Pittsburgh.

The West Fork and Tygart rivers join at Fairmont to create the Monongahela River; it flows north to meet the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh and form the Ohio River.

“The West Virginia Encyclopedia” reports that the Monongahela drains 7,340 square miles in north-central West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland.

Whence the name? The U.S. Board on Geographic Names reports that Monongahela is a name of American Indian origin, one that means “river with the sliding banks” or “high banks that break off and fall down.”

In “The Monongalia Story,” volume 1, Earl L. Core cites L.V. McWhorter, who says the word is a Seneca Indian name and means “river of curling waters.”

Other spellings of the name, according to the Geographic Names Board, have included a number of variations of Monongahela, including Mechmenawungihilla, Menawngihella, Manaungahela River, Me-nangi-hil-li, Mehmannaunringgehlau, Mo-hon-ga-ly River, Monaung River and Monona River and just plain old Muddy River.

The online Lenape Language Project reports it as “menaonkihela,” where banks cave in or erode, or “menaonke,” it has a loose bank (where one might fall in).

The name “Monongahela” has been borne proudly by three U.S. Navy ships, with the motto “Pride in Service.”
According to assorted U.S. Naval websites:

The first USS Monongahela, commissioned in January 1863, served in the Civil War, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico Blockade. A 2,078-ton steam screw sloop, she was used as a ship-rigged sail training ship from 1894-1899. She was destroyed by fire at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on March 17, 1908.

The second USS Monongahela (AO-42), an oil tanker, was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1942, commissioned on Sept. 11, 1942, and assigned to the Pacific Fleet. She was decommissioned in 1959. She received 10 Battle Stars for her World War II service.

The last USS Monongahela (AO-178), a fleet oiler, was commissioned Sept. 5, 1981, and decommissioned in 1999. She is berthed at the James River Reserve Fleet, Fort Eustis, Va.

Eevlyn Ryan researches and writes this column. Send ideas and suggestions to