State of Minnesota

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Origin of Minnesota County Names

Original Source: "Minnesota Geographic Names" by Warren Upham,
St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society, 1969
and posted on the Minnesota Secretary of State website.

Submitted by K.T., Nov. 2011

Aitkin. Named for William Alexander Aitkin, a fur trader with the Ojibway Indians. [Note: Originally spelled Aiken, it was changed by an act of legislature in 1872]

Anoka. From the Dakota word meaning "the other side" or "both sides". County was named after the City of Anoka, which was laid out on both sides of the Rum River.

Becker. Named for George Loomis Becker, mayor of St. Paul, 1856; state senator, 1868-71.

Beltrami. Named for Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, Italian explorer. Explored northern reaches of Mississippi River, 1823. He was the first explorer to give descriptions of the Red and Turtle Lakes.

Benton. Named for Thomas Hart Benton, U.S. Senator from Missouri, 1821-51, who championed the passage of the first homestead land laws.

Big Stone. Named for Big Stone Lake. Big Stone is the translation of the Dakota name for the lake, which alludes to large outcropping of granite near the foot of the lake.

Blue Earth. From the Blue Earth River, named for blue-green earth found near its mouth and used by the Dakotas as pigment.

Brown. Named for Joseph Renshaw Brown, prominent pioneer, publisher of the Minnesota Pioneer, member of the territorial legislature, 1854-55, 1857.

Carlton. Named for Reuben B. Carlton, one of the first settlers at the Fond du Lac; member of first state senate, 1858.

Carver. Named for Captain Jonathan Carver, noted explorer and author, traveled through Minnesota in 1766-67.

Cass. Named for Lewis Cass. Explored upper Mississippi to Cass Lake in 1820; governor, Michigan Territory, 1813-31; U.S. Secretary of War, 1831-36; U.S. Senator from Michigan 1945-57; U.S. Secretary of State, 1857-60.

Chippewa. Named for Chippewa River. River so named by the Dakotas because of heavy use by Ojibway war parties to access the Minnesota River valley.

Chisago. Named for Chisago Lake. Chisago is an anglicized version of the Ojibway words kichi and saga which mean "large" and "lovely", respectively.

Clay. Named for Henry Clay, American statesman. U.S. Senator and Congressman from Kentucky variously during the period 1806-52; U.S. Secretary of State, 1825-29; three times Speaker of the House, and three times a candidate for president.

Clearwater. Named after Clearwater river and lake. Clearwater is a translation of the Ojibway word Ga-wakomitigweia, describing the appearance of the water.

Cook. Named for Major Michael Cook of Faribault. Territorial and state senator, 1857-62; killed in Civil War at battle of Nashville.

Cottonwood. Named after the Cottonwood River. Cottonwood is a translation of Waraju, the Dakota name for the river, reflecting the abundance of the tree on its banks.

Crow Wing. Named after the Crow Wing River. Crow Wing is loose translation of Kagiwigwan, the Ojibway name for the river. A more accurate translation of this name may be "raven feather".

Dakota. Named for the Dakota people, meaning an alliance or league.

Dodge. Named for Henry Dodge and his son Augustus. Henry Dodge, was territorial governor, delegate in Congress and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, 1836-57. Augustus Dodge was delegate to Congress for Iowa Territory, 1840-47 and U.S. Senator from Iowa, 1848-55.

Douglas. Named for Stephen Arnold Douglas, member of Congress from Illinois 1843-47, U.S. Senator from Illinois, 1847-61; candidate for president in 1860; advocated Minnesota statehood as chairman of Senate Committee on Territories.

Faribault. Named for Jean Baptiste Faribault, first white settler to farm in Minnesota. Major figure in trade with the Dakotas, 1803-60.

Fillmore. Named for Millard Fillmore, member of Congress from New York 1833-35 and 1837-43; president of the United States, 1850-53.

Freeborn. Named for William Freeborn, member of the council in the territorial legislature, 1854-57; second mayor of Red Wing, 1858.

Goodhue. Named for James Madison Goodhue, first printer and editor in Minnesota. Printed first issue of the Minnesota Pioneer on April 28, 1849.

Grant. Named for Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union armies, 1864-65; president of the United States, 1869-77.

Hennepin. Named for Louis Hennepin, Franciscan missionary, author and explorer. Explored large section of Mississippi River and named Falls of St. Anthony, 1680.

Houston. Named for Samuel Houston, member of Congress from Tennessee, 1823-27; governor of Tennessee, 1827-29; president of Texas, 1836-38, 1841-44; U. S. Senator from Texas, 1845-59; governor of Texas, 1859-61.

Hubbard. Named for Lucius Frederick Hubbard, editor of Red Wing Republican; state senator, 1872-1875; governor of Minnesota, 1882-87.

Isanti. Named for a division of the Dakotas known as the Izatys, which may be translated to mean "dwell at Knife Lake", where they resided.

Itasca. Named after Lake Itasca. Lake Itasca was named by the explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1832. He made up the name by combining the Latin words veritas and caput, which mean "truth" and "head", respectively. Schoolcraft discovered the source of the Mississippi river at the lake.

Jackson. Named for Henry Jackson, the first merchant in St. Paul and a member of the first territorial legislature.

Kanabec. Named after the Snake River. Kanabec is the Ojibway word for snake.

Kandiyohi. Named for Kandiyohi Lake. Kandiyohi is the Dakota name for several lakes, meaning "where the buffalo fish come".

Kittson. Named for Norman Wolfred Kittson, member of territorial legislature, 1851-55 and mayor of St. Paul, 1858. The Cathedral of St. Paul is built on the former site of his home.

Koochiching. The Ojibway version of the Cree name for Rainy Lake and Rainy River.

Lac qui Parle. Named for Lac qui Parle Lake. Lac qui Parle is French meaning "the lake that talks", a translation of the Dakota name for the lake, Mdeiyedan.

Lake. Named for the Lake Superior, which forms the southeastern boundary of the county.

Lake of the Woods. Named for Lake of the Woods. Translation of the Cree name for the lake. The lake was first mapped and named Lac des Bois in 1737.

Le Sueur. Named for Pierre Charles LeSueur, French-Canadian trader and explorer who traveled sections of the Mississippi River starting in 1683.

Lincoln. Named for Abraham Lincoln, member of Congress from Illinois, 1847-49; president of the United States, 1861-65.

Lyon. Named for General Nathaniel Lyon who worked against secession in Missouri; served in frontier duty with Army in Minnesota and Dakota territory, 1853-61; killed in Civil War at battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, 1861.

McLeod. Named for Martin McLeod, pioneer fur trader, member of the council in the territorial legislature, 1849-53; one of the founders of the City of Glencoe, 1855.

Mahnomen. Mahnomen or manomin is the Ojibway word for wild rice.

Marshall. Named for William Rainey Marshall, governor of Minnesota, 1866-70 and general in 7th Minnesota Regiment during the Civil War.

Martin. Named either for Henry Martin or Morgan Lewis Martin. Henry Martin was a prominent landowner from Connecticut. Morgan Lewis Martin was a delegate to Congress from Wisconsin and introduced a bill for the organization of the Minnesota Territory.

Meeker. Named for Bradley B. Meeker, associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, 1849-53; member of the constitutional convention, 1857; member of the territorial legislature, 1851.

Mille Lacs. Named for Mille Lacs Lake. Mille Lacs is French for "a thousand lakes", in reference to the region known by voyageurs and traders to contain a large number of lakes.

Morrison. Named for the brothers William and Allen Morrison. William Morrison, fur trader for American Fur Company, established trading posts from Grand Portage to the Lake of the Woods. Allen Morrison was a representative in the first territorial legislature.

Mower. Named for John E. Mower, member of the council in the territorial legislature, 1854-55; state representative, 1874-75.

Murray. Named for Willian Pitt Murray, member of the territorial legislature 1852-55 and 1857; member of the constitutional convention; state representative, 1863 and 1868; state senator, 1866-67 and 1875-76; served seventeen years on the St. Paul City Council and was St. Paul City Attorney for thirteen years.

Nicollet. Named for Joseph Nicollet, geographer and explorer, who led expedition to Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota.

Nobles. Named for William H. Nobles, member of the territorial legislature in 1854 and 1856.

Norman. Named to commemorate the great number of immigrants in the county of Norwegian (Norseman or Norman) descent.

Olmsted. Named for David Olmsted, first mayor of St. Paul, 1854; member of the council of the first territorial legislature, 1849 and 1850.

Otter Tail. Named for Otter Tail Lake. Otter Tail is the translation of the Ojibway name for the lake, characterized by a long, narrow sand bar in the shape of an otter's tail.

Pennington. Named for Edmund Pennington, president of the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway Company.

Pine. Named for large stands of white and red pine found at one time in the county.

Pipestone. Named for sacred Dakota quarry of red pipestone found in the county, used in the making of ceremonial pipes.

Polk. Named for James K. Polk, member of Congress from Tennessee, 1825-39; governor of Tennessee, 1839-41; president of the United States, 1845-49. On his last day in office, Polk approved the act of Congress which organized the Minnesota Territory.

Pope. Named for General John Pope, who explored sections of the Red, Crow Wing and Mississippi Rivers in 1849; based in St. Paul as commander of the Department of the Northwest during the Dakota War, 1863-64.

Ramsey. Named for Alexander Ramsey, first governor of Minnesota Territory, 1849-53; second mayor of St. Paul, 1855; second governor of Minnesota, 1860-63; U.S. Senator, 1863-75; U.S. Secretary of War, 1879-81.

Red Lake. Named for Red Lake River. Red Lake is the translation of the Ojibway name for this geographic feature, so named because of the color of the lake at sunset.

Redwood. Named for Redwood River. Redwood is the translation of the Dakota name "Chanshayapi".

Renville. Named for Joseph Renville, captain in the British Army who led the Dakotas in attacks on the American frontier during the War of 1812; served as interpreter in Long Expedition to Red River and Lake Winnipeg in 1823; later employed as a trader for the American Fur Company.

Rice. Named for Henry Mower Rice, one of the first two U.S. Senators from Minnesota, 1858-63.

Rock. Named for the prominent outcrop of quartzite north of the City of Luverne.

Roseau. Named for Roseau Lake and River. Roseau is the French translation of the Ojibway name ga-shash-agunushkokawi-sibi, meaning "place of the rushes".

St. Louis. Named for the St. Louis River. The St. Louis River was named by the French explorer Verendrye in honor of being awarded the order of St. Louis by the King of France in 1749.

Scott. Named for General Winfield Scott, commander in chief, U.S. Army, 1841-61; commander of American forces, Mexican War, 1847. On his recommendation, the name of Ft. St. Anthony was changed to Ft. Snelling in 1825.

Sherburne. Named for Moses Sherburne, associate justice, Minnesota Supreme Court, 1853-57.

Sibley. Named for General Henry Hastings Sibley, delegate to Congress from Minnesota Territory, 1849-53; first governor of Minnesota, 1858-60.

Stearns. Named for Charles Thomas Stearns, member of the council of the territorial legislature, 1854-55.

Steele. Named for Franklin Steele, prominent Minneapolis pioneer and businessman; member of first board of regents of the University of Minnesota.

Stevens. Named for Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Directed the northern surveys conducted for the construction of a Pacific railroad; governor of Washington Territory, 1853-57; delegate to Congress from Washington Territory, 1857-61; general in Civil War, killed in the battle of Chantilly, Virginia.

Swift. Named in honor of Henry A. Swift, state senator, 1862-65; governor of Minnesota, 1863.

Todd. Named for John Blair Smith Todd, commander of Ft. Ripley, 1849-56; general in the Civil War; delegate in Congress from Dakota Territory, 1861 and 1863-65; governor of Dakota Territory, 1869-71.

Traverse. Received its name from the Lake Traverse, a translation of the Dakota name Mdehdakinyan, which means lake lying crosswise (compared to Big Stone and Lac qui Parle Lakes).

Wabasha. Named for three generations of chiefs who had great influence among the Dakotas living along the Mississippi River.

Wadena. Received its name from the Wadena Trading Post, derived from an Ojibway word meaning "a little round hill".

Waseca. Waseca is a Dakota word meaning "rich and fertile," apparently in reference to the soil found in the county.

Washington. Named for George Washington, commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783; president of the United States, 1789-97.

Watonwan. Received its name from the Watonwan River. Translation of the Dakota word watanwan meaning "where fish bait bounds".

Wilkin. Named for Colonel Alexander Wilkin, U.S. marshal for Minnesota and secretary of the Minnesota Territory, 1851-53; killed during the Civil War at the battle of Tupelo, Mississippi, 1864.

Winona. Named for Dakota woman, cousin of the last chief Wabasha; from the Dakota word for "first born daughter".

Wright. Named for Silas Wright, member of Congress from New York, 1827-29; U.S. Senator from New York, 1833-44; governor of New York 1845-47. Personal friend of a Monticello resident who urged the legislature to establish the county.

Yellow Medicine. Named for Yellow Medicine River. Yellow medicine is a translation of the Dakota name Pajutazee, in reference to yellow-rooted plants used for medicinal purposes found along river.

Source: Minnesota Geographic Names, by Warren Upham, Minnesota Historical Society, 1969.

Minnesota Ghost Counties

Andy Johnson County - This county was created in 1858 as Toombs, renamed Andy Johnson the same year, and renamed Wilkin in 1868.
Breckenridge County - Created in 1858, and renamed Clay in 1862.
Buchanan County - Created 1857 or before; dissolved sometime in 1860 or later.
Doty County - Became Lake and (part of) Saint Louis Counties in 1856.
Johnson County - Became part of Wilkin County.
Mankahta County - Discontinued after 1850.
Monongalia County - Created 1860 or before; discontinued 1870 or later.
Pembina County - Created 1850 or before; changed to Kittson in 1878.
Pierce County - Created about 1857 (maybe sooner); disorganized after 1860.
Superior County - Changed to (part of) Saint Louis County in 1855/1856.
Toombs County - Original name of Andy Johnson and (later) Wilkin Counties.
Wahnata County - Dissolved 1850 or later.

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