Ask a 'sotan: How many lakes in Minnesota have their native language name?

How many lakes in Minnesota have their original Indian name? Janice Tarnow, Rochester

Great question, and one that is not easy to answer. There are a couple of ways to look at the names of lakes. There are some very popular names that are not native in origin, but are "native inspired." This would include: Minnetonka: "Big Water" named by Governor Ramsey. He made up the name from two Dakota words "Minne" meaning water and "tonka" meaning big or great. The Dakota did not use this words to describe the lake.

Then there are names that were inspired by Henry Longfellow's 1855 Poem The Song of Hiawatha: Some of those included in this would be Lake Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Creek, These were not the names used for these lakes/stream by the Dakota.

There are bodies of water that had native names, but were then translated into French or English. In the northwest, for example, the Roseau River is an Ojibway translation of "Reed-Grass River."

There are names that are truly native in origin. They tend to be descriptive. One example is Lake Winnibigoshish, with a rough Ojibway translation of "filthy water."

But every single name would need to be investigated to find out.

A great source is Warren Upham's "Minnesota Geographic Names".

"Ask a 'sotan: How many lakes in Minnesota have their native language name?"; by Matt Mikus; MPRnews; August 18, 2018


A quick look on-line produced this -The name Mississippi comes from the French "Messipi" - the French rendering of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river, "Misi-ziibi," meaning "Great River." Mississippi is taken from an Indian word meaning "Father of Waters." Mississippi means "large river" to the Chippewa Indians.

Minnesota is named after the Minnesota River. The river got its name from the Sioux Indian word "Minisota." That word comes from the words "minni," meaning "water," and "sotah," meaning "sky-tinted" or "cloudy."

Wisconsin is from an Indian word, but the origin is uncertain. It is perhaps an Algonquian Indian word that means "long river," a Chippewa/Ojibwa/Anishinabe word, "Ouisconsin," that means "grassy place," or "gathering of the waters."

Many, many geographic names are based on their original Indian word(s) or a direct translation of the Indian name.

Elder Wan

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