Why Most Minnesota Lakes Put the “Lake” Part of the Name First

The largest of the Great Lakes is Lake Superior. What if it was Lake Superior?

In the United States, it could very well be. English-speaking North America has no rules as to whether “Lake” comes first or second.

Minnesota’s inconsistent lake names are no exception: for example, we have Lake Vermilion, Lake Cass, Lake Minnetonka, Lake Leech, Lake Como, and Lake Cedar, to name a few- one.

Although the lack of uniformity in lake names may elude most people, the question of why it is sometimes Lake Name and Name Lake for others has long intrigued those who study lake maps. ‘water.

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One such person is Beatrix Beisner, professor and co-director of the interuniversity research group in limnology at the University of Quebec at Montreal, who studies lakes and often translates their names between French – where “Lake” comes first, to English. , where for Canadians and Americans, there really are no rules: Lake Tahoe; Crater lake.

She works on a lake, for example, called Lac Croche. “Do Am I writing this as Croche Lake or am I writing this as Lake Croche in my papers? ” she says.

After discussing the matter, she and another researcher decided to investigate potential explanations for Name Lake versus Name Lake. Their findings were published in an article in freshwater biology.

Lake name or lake name

When they got started, the researchers had a few assumptions. First, it seemed that the size of a lake had something to do with whether “Lake” was the first or second name. After all, all of the Great Lakes have the “Lake” first, as do many of the largest or most important lakes in the country.

Second, they hypothesized that settlement patterns likely influenced how lakes were named. At a glance, there seemed to be regional differences as to whether it was more common to put “Lake” first or second, which could be explained by the structure of how people who have colonized different parts of the United States were talking about.

Parts of the country settled by people speaking Romance languages ​​(or Gaelic, with a similar naming convention) might be more likely to put “Lac” first: in French and other Romance languages ​​(Spanish, Italian, etc.) .), the convention is to put “Lac” or “Lago” in front of the name of the lake: Lac d’Annecy; Chapala Lake; Lake Como.

Regions settled by the British and Germans (who tend to place the lake second, see: Windermere in England (“simple” = lake) and Wannsee in Germany (“see” = lake) may be more likely to retain lake names that put the lake in second place.

“It’s remarkable how consistent it is in England and Germany too. (Some) 98% of lakes follow this convention. And the same in France and Spain, but the opposite,” Beisner said.

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Linguistic models

When the researchers tested these hypotheses using a sample of lake data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Lakes Assessment Database, both hypotheses appeared to hold. : lakes with a larger area were more likely to be called Lake Name, and where “Lake” appeared also seemed to be influenced by the languages ​​of the peoples who colonized different regions.

This may explain why US states vary widely in how they name lakes: in the researchers’ sample, Florida and Louisiana (largely settled by Spaniards and French) had much higher shares of Lake Name than most other states. Some New England states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, were Name Lake exclusively (you can find a breakdown of Name Lake/Name Lake by state on page 6 of the article).

In Minnesota, where the first settlers came from France and later other parts of Europe, about 90% of the lakes in the researchers’ sample were Name Lake, while about 10% were Lake Name, have discovered the researchers.

Of course, many lakes in Minnesota, like Bde Maka Ska and Bemidji (a shortened version of “Bemijigamaag”), have Dakota and Ojibwe names.

In the Ojibwe language, lake names typically describe geographic features, according to Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University and author of numerous books on Ojibwe language and culture.

For example, Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag meaning “the place where there are many red cedars,” is the Ojibway name for Cass Lake.

When names include a term for “lake,” it usually comes after the descriptor, Treuer said.

An example of this is in Misi-zaaga’iganiing (zaaga’iganiing means lake), the Ojibway word for Thousand Lakes, which translates to “the lake that stretches everywhere”.

We’ve reached out to Dakota language teachers to ask about Dakota lake naming conventions and will update the story if we hear back.

As for the official names of lakes in Minnesota – those that appear on maps, Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist and the person who handles geographic feature names at the DNRconfirmed that there is no hard or fast Lake Name/Name Lake rule.

When “Lake” comes first, it’s usually to emphasize a lake feature — like Lake Superior, he said. “Lake” often comes second in the names of smaller, lesser-known features, but that may all come down to local preference, he said in an email.

Sometimes there is no complete agreement on whether it is Lake name or Lake name, as for Mille Lacs (officially, it is Lac Mille Lacs, Boulay confirmed). Anyway, the name is a bit redundant, because “lacs” means “lakes” in French.

While language patterns seem to be a big determinant of how people name lakes, some states’ lake names remain difficult to explain.

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The New England and east coast states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Connecticut – where you might expect to find lots of lakes named due to English settlement, actually have many names of lakes.

As to why, Beisner said it’s hard to say. And she encouraged someone with more history or language expertise to look into it.

Edward K. Thompson