How did Wisconsin get its name?
Wisconsinites are known for putting our own unique spin on words like “bubbler” and “ope,” but how did the state itself get its unique name?
A Wisconsin State Historical Society essay says the name originated from the English spelling of a French version of a Miami tribe name for what’s now the Wisconsin River. Scholars have concluded that the original Miami word meant “this stream meanders through something red,” “it lies red” or “river running through a red place.”
In his 2003 book “On Wisconsin: The Derivation and Referent of an Old Puzzle in American Placenames,” historical linguist Michael McCafferty argued that this word, “meeskohsinki,” was a reference to the red sandstone rock formations of the Wisconsin Dells.
A name for Wisconsin was first written down in 1673
The first time a word similar to Wisconsin’s current name was written down was in June 1673 in a journal entry by explorer and missionary Fr. Jacques Marquette, the Historical Society says. Marquette referred to the river as “Meskousing.”
Other possible origins of Wisconsin’s name
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, multiple attempts were made to determine the meaning of Marquette’s “Meskousing.” However, the hypothesized meanings were derived incorrectly from the Ojibwe language, not Miami, because the latter had not yet been mastered by modern scholars.
Another possible origin for Wisconsin’s name was mentioned to WPR in 2019 by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay elder in residence and member of the Menominee tribe, Napos. He said he “was always told the name came from the Menominee word ‘Wēskōhsaeh.'”
The first part of that word come from the word “Wis-cu,” which Napos told WPR means “something good.” The ending of “Wēskōhsaeh” is locative, meaning “‘a good place to camp,’ or ‘to make a clearing’ or ‘to basically live.'”
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