Why Towanda?

If you saw the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, you probably remember the character of Idgie Threadgoode played by Mary Stuart Masterson. Well, Idgie was not your conventional young lady of the 1920’s. She was independent, self assured and had her own sense of right and wrong. If she decided to do something, she just did it, whether it was ‘appropriate’ or not. I quite enjoyed the movie and eventually read the book.

A couple times during the movie when she was doing something that she had been told was not proper, such as swimming in the river with a group of friends, mostly boys, she would yell out “Towanda,” kind of like someone else might yell out, “Geronimo.” It was her own personal battle cry.

So some years ago at the company I worked, I had an idea to make a little company newsletter. I mentioned it to my boss, and she didn’t think it was a good idea. Not long after that, the home office suggested that the different divisions have newsletters. My boss decided it was a great idea then, and she took full control of it. I don’t know why that annoyed me so much at the time, but it did. So, I went home and made my own little newsletter about my own little life and made some copies and mailed it to my friends. I called it Towanda. It was fun. I created several issues and my friends seemed to like it. Since then, Towanda has been my personal battle cry too.

I have tried to do research on the word, Towanda, with little success. There are several towns of that name in various states, including Illinois. I actually spend a day and drove to Towanda, Illinois with a friend to look around. It was a Sunday and not a thing was open. I think there was one cafe, gas station and a few houses surrounded by farmland.

I suspect the word is of Native American origin, but so far I have not found a translation.

I just did a new search on Towanda and came up with this excellent summary of the movie: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/archive/film/towanda.htm

It does a better job of explaining about Towanda than I just did.

One site for Towanda Township in PA, says the name is Native American and means, ‘where we bury the dead.’  http://www.bradfordcountypa.org/Our-Towns/Towanda-Township.asp

Oh, and I found one definition that says it may be an Osage Indian word for ‘many waters’ or ‘rushing waters.’

And it can be a boys or a girls name.  One link suggests it is of African origin, another says it is a Germanic version of Wanda.

And here is a virtual quilting group called Towanda: http://www.ruralwomyn.net/quilt_2.html

If you have more information on Towanda, send me a link and I will add it to this page.

LCKS 2009-09-10


38 thoughts on “Why Towanda?

  1. I found out about your blog last night at a sewing party where we were making sewing machine mats. One of the inspirations was your pattern. I had just finished telling a story about Fried Green Tomatoes when I picked up the print out of your pattern and noticed “Towanda” written on it. I knew immediately I had to come check out your blog. Fried Green Tomatoes is my favorite movie ever.

  2. I was drawn to your blog because of the name being very similar to the Tonawanda Creek, plus the city of Tonawanda, NY. After reading how you came to use the name i did some checking on Tonawanda and came up with this ” Tahnawá•teh meaning “confluent stream”” Sort of looked like Towanda to me. Anyways, might be another avenue for you to check out.

  3. Danai Matshalaga says:

    Towanda in the Zimbabwean(country in southern africa) venacular of shona means to grow, becoming plentiful or increasing in number.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I am doing an article for a Kansas publication. Towanda is not an Osage word, even though pioneer woman Sarah Cupp wrote in her journal that it was and meant “rushing waters”. I hear Cherokees also say that Towanda is Osage for “rushing waters”. We believe that the settlers misheard the Osages. Remember that most of the settlers came from the East. They probably heard something that resembled their eastern towns such as Tonawanda, which is maybe Iroquios. I have to look into that. We are trying to look into every place that has Osage origins and decipher the meanings and actual word.

    Thanks for posting this too. I didn’t realize that there were other Towandas!

    • Roz Clark says:

      Inspired by Idgie, my 3 sisters and I (ages 59 -74) strive to move outside our individual comfort zones and do things that we normally would not. We call these “Towandas” which is what we may exclaim during the experience. Idgie is our inspiration!

      • Margaret Johnson says:

        I just saw the movie tonight!!
        I can’t believe I neither read the book or saw the movie!!
        I loved it!!
        From all the sites I’ve read( it’s almost 6am) it seems the book seperates idgie n ninny as two people.
        The movie was ambiguous and evidence for both sides can be given.
        I think two things, I’m probably nuts but, first I thing they are the same in the movie.
        Secondly, if they are not, I think the ending w the note n honey was an allegory that the Spirit of Towanda lives. jmo

  5. Melanie says:

    I live in Towanda Pa and the name comes from the American Indian term “were we bury the dead” because this town is and Indian burial ground. My heratige is 100% American Indian so it was very interesting when my grandmother told me that most of my ancestors are buried right in my town.

  6. Towanda says:

    Hey, I came across this page during my search for the meaning of my name. Would you believe I am a Towanda:) I must admit finding a real meaning has been hard.

    • Gwen says:

      i guess there are quite a few meanings but i know the Shona meaning from Zimbabwe,Towanda present continous meaning ‘we are becoming many’ and there is Tawanda meaning ‘we are many’

  7. Mo says:

    Towanda is a Zimbabwean name . It is in the Shona language . It is a popular name for boys and is given to imply the family is increasing .Tawanda means the family has increased while Towanda means the family is increasing or we are increasing

  8. Hello, I found your post very interesting. I am a Towanda, I got my name from Towanda, PA. When I was in junior high I had a history teacher that gave the history of the name Towanda. I hated history and he was trying his best to help me out LOL. Later in life I did a research to see if what he had taught me many years ago was true. If you check out the website you will find the history of Towanda, at least for Towanda PA.

  9. Terrence Reilly says:

    I just watched this movie for the second or third time. The cry, “towanda” sounds a lot like the cry, “to Wanda” used by a crazy character in “A Fish Called Wanda”. Since it is used there as a battle cry (whist avenging the murder of the goldfish, Wanda), it seems likely that this film is making reference to that cry.

  10. When Idgie picks up Ruth from her asshole of a husband’s house and they are driving away you can here her shout, “Towanda, the amazing Amazon woman!” But it seems the only reference I can find is Fried Green Tomatoes. I thought for sure there would be a legend behind it….

    • Growing up in Alabama in Irondale where the Whistlestop Café actually was I remember boys referring to girls that were large/tall and somewhat tomboyish as Amazon women. I am not sure how long that had been going on but I was born in the early 70’s and I am sure it had gone on longer than I was alive and they heard it from someone in their family and carried on with it. There is another reference where her mother looks at Idgie as she walks up with fish and says something to the effects ( IF YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE
      THE WILD MAN OF BORNEO.) Towanda gave Idgie strength to be strong as a man like the amazon women were suppose to be big and strong.

  11. Maybe you could visit the café in Irondale Alabama where the story actually began. The Threadgoode house is still there just behind the cafe even though in the story it implied that many of the homes had been torn down and condemned. They are actually all still there and so is the Whistlestop Café and its still open and running to this day.

  12. Melanie Schneiter says:

    Towanda is Indeed a Native American word. Yes it is and Osage word for many waters. Yes it is in honor of Natives that these towns named Towanda are named thus.

  13. Kathy says:

    I found this link that give a definition of “Towanda”
    A word used to express extreme excitement while doing something crazy.

    • Doesn’t make sense why a ticket selling website would be a reference for the conversation we’re having about the meaning of Towanda. You must have made an error in copying & pasting. Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my all-time favorite movies, in a league with how the Wizard of Oz was for me as a child. The reference that I remember also in the movie regarding Towanda is when before Frank Bennet married Ruth, he ran across Idgie & introduced himself to her, calling her Idgie, she responded with, “That’s Towanda to you”.

  14. Suzanne D Barnett says:

    I guess we could ask the author behind the movie Fried Green Tomatoes……. The one and only Fannie Flag which is from the the great state of Alabama. I’ve thought about contacting her to ask her where Towanda came from and the meaning behind it.

  15. solange silverman says:

    Towanda has two meanings ‘peaceful resting place’, ‘many waters’ or ‘rushing waters’. The latter water meaning is an Osage Indian word. There are three towns in America named Towanda, based on their Native American roots: Towanda, IL; Towanda, KS and Towanda, PA.

  16. Steven Coy says:

    The reference made in Fried Green Tomatoes is a reference crossed to southern dialect. Meaning that when someone doesn’t know, they wonder.
    “To Wanda”-” To Wonder”.

  17. Kelly says:


    In the movie when Idgie was talking to Frank Bennett is where Towanda comes from …

    Frank Bennett: Well, hello there, miss. And who might you be?

    Idgie Threadgoode: Towanda, to you. Who’re you?

    Frank Bennett: Oh, ah, Frank Bennett’s the name, Miss… ah, Towanda. I must say, you are looking mighty fine today.

    Idgie Threadgoode: You a politician, or does lying just run in your family?

  18. Leigh Ann says:

    From the time I saw the movie, I started my own version of Misheard Lyrics on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1971 song “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”
    At the end of the second verse, I change the words “I wonder” and shout Towanda!

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