In 1698, right about when Hannah Dustin was kidnapped in Haverhill, Massachusetts and eventually escaped back down the Merrimack River, settlers in New Jersey established a permanent home in a community that would eventually be called Ho-Ho-Kus. As a New Englander, I’d never heard of this town, but I absolutely know some of the people who have come through this community. Aaron Burr married into the community and lived at the Hermitage. Other notable visitors included Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold,
I had a lovely dinner at the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn, which is an old farmhouse that’s been built up over the years to become a highly-regarded restaurant. Being a visitor to the area, I didn’t know the history of the name, but it clearly originated from Native Americans who lived in this region. The Borough of Ho-Ho-Kus has an excellent history of the community and provides theories around the name.
According to the Borough’s site, the origin of the name comes from one of these possible origins:
it is an Indian word for running water
it means cleft in the rock or under the rock or hollow rock
it comes from hohokes signifying the whistle of the wind against the bark of trees
it is named from the Chihohokies Indians whose chief lived here
it comes from the Dutch Hoog Akers for high acorns or Hoge Aukers, Dutch for high oaks
its “Ho” part means joy or spirit and the rest of the name hohokes means a kind of bark of a tree
it comes from Indian hoccus meaning fox, woakus, gray fox.
Whatever the original meaning of the name, it’s certainly interesting. Having worked for a company with a hyphen, and partnering with another company that has a hyphen, I appreciate the commitment of the borough to retain this unique spelling. It’s one thing to add hyphens when you’re handwriting the name. It’s quite another to type hyphens into the name.
I’ve been to a lot of places in my lifetime. I’m happy to add Ho-Ho-Kus to that list. I don’t know which of the origins is correct, but the one that resonates for me is that “Ho” means Joy or spirit, and the rest references bark. So to me, it makes sense that it would refer to the whistle of the wind through the high oak trees. I’ve heard that sound myself in other places and find it a joyful noise. So perhaps the spirits of the ancients are whistling to us as they pass through the oak trees.