Wagga Wagga – the meaning behind the name

The name Wagga is derived from the local Wiradjuri Aboriginal language on whose land the City of Wagga Wagga now grows. It is widely accepted that Wagga means ‘crow’ and to create the plural, the Wiradjuri people repeat the word. Thus Wagga Wagga translates as ‘the place of many crows’.

There is, however, some discussion about that and some contemporary Wiradjuri people frequently refer to the name as meaning ‘dancing’ or ‘staggering like a drunken man’. As early as 1838, James Gunther (recorder of the most significant and accurate Wiradjuri material) listed ‘wagga wagga’ as meaning ‘reeling like a drunken man’. Richards published (in a journal called The Science of Man) some 3000 words of Wiradjuri around the year 1902. He recorded ‘wagga wagga’ as meaning ‘Like to dance’ or ‘Peculiar step’, which was a typical early description of Indigenous dance by people who were unfamiliar with it. That is, play, dance about or undertake corroboree and ceremonial dancing.

In terms of the contemporary use of the Wiradjuri language, based on the best authorities available, the word is one of a set of words associated with the word ‘waganha’ (dancing now). These include ‘waganhi’ (danced), ‘wagagirri’ (will dance), ‘wagadha!’ (dance!), ‘wagambirra’ (play or dance about), ‘wagadyi’ (a dance), ‘wagawaga’ (dances (plural)) and ‘wagadhaany’ (dancer).

In contrast, the name of the crow is ‘waagan’ and its plural can either be ‘waagangalang’ or ‘waaganwaagan’, both of which require the ‘n’ and the longer ‘aa’ sounds.

Information derived from Stan Grant and Dr John Rudder, Wiradjuri Language Development Project, September 2001.

Story contributed by Christine Harris. Published in 2016.