The name derives from the Catawba Native American name catawba for these trees (the tribal totem), with the spelling Catalpa being due to a transcription error on the part of the describing botanist (Scopoli) making the first formal scientific description of the genus.
Historically catalpa wood has been valued for manufacturing fence posts. Pioneer doctors used the seedpods and seed to make a decoction for chronic bronchial infections, spasmodic asthma, labored breathing, and heart conditions
In Japan — the magical bow Azusa-Yumi is called the “bow made from the catalpa tree”.
A silly note: as children my brother, his friends, and I would take the seedpods, and pretend they were cigars. We would puff happily all day on a single seedpod! Until one day when someone got really smart and brought along a lighter. We lite one up and passed it around. Dizziness and nausea hit immediately, and put an end to such silly play!