10 Unique Words for Place Names in Michigan • Thumbwind

Historian and writer Mark Putnam explore ten unique Native American and French words that derive from place names in Michigan. A fascinating story of our evolving language.

wow! I thought I wouldn’t get any replies to my last message. To lengthen a long story, I note that I got more than average responses, and I’m going to go on with the word “Wanigan” for a bit.

What is a Wanigan?

Wanigan on Michigan’s AuSable River – US Forest Service Photo (Public Domain)

On the Cass River in the days of logging, a wanigan was a raft with a cabin built on it that housed a cook, supplies, and other stored necessities. It was also a place where the river conductor could sleep.
Today, wanigan basically means the storage box in a canoe.

Word “waniganis locally related to the Ojibwe word “waanikaan” which means the excavated hole or pit that served as a storage place and also as a pit.

Waanikemeans to dig a hole and comes from “waan” meaning a hole, plus “-ike” meaning to make more “-n”, which is a suffix used to form nouns from verbs.

A trap is a “wanii’ige.” Interestingly, an animal fur or skin is a “-manner.”

All these words make me say that the food supply [or bait] were once stored in a hole or pit, a “wow“, and after finding an animal which fell into the pit and could not escape, the Natives took its skin for clothing, etc., and this skin was named after the source of the trap .

Hide or skin in Ojibwe or [wayaan] was certainly named for the hole or pit [waan] where it came from and even later may have been stored.

You might want to know that in German and Dutch, ‘w’ is pronounced like a ‘v’, and ‘v’ and ‘f’ are used interchangeably.

Place names in Michigan? – Let’s explore Sebewaing!

In the inch of Michigan, the place name Sebewaingas I mentioned in the last post, then probably meant the river of the fur, the trap or the snare and also the river of the hole for the storage.

The word Sebewaing is related to the place of cache or cache of the trapper’s stores.

  • In German, “fangen” means to trap.
  • In Dutch, “vangen” [remember the Ojibwe word wanikaan”] also means to catch or trap.
  • In Dutch, “val” means a trap and “valies” is a suitcase, box or suitcase.
  • In Latin, “cases” means to fall and “casus” means to trap.
  • In Latin, vallis” means a valley, vale, hollow or large hole [, in which you could fall.]
  • In Latin, “vidulus” means a suitcase or a leather trunk, a box or a case, and comes from the Latin “villus” and “vellus” which mean a fleece.
  • In Latin, “pellus” and “pellis” mean a skin, fur or fur!
  • In French, a “pelisse” was originally a fur coat.
  • In French, “caisse” means a storage box, travel case or suitcase.
  • In Ojibway, “makak” means a basket or storage box.

Early Europeans and Indigenous peoples of North America had a similar development in the words they spoke and the names of hole and trap, which may have universal origins in the nature of objects described as a onomatopoeia [or name made by the sound of the object] as in the sizzle. cuckoo and hollow, the latter having in its sound a reminiscence of the echo produced by a deep hole.

Hollow almost sounds like “high low” to me.

They used words that appear to be onomatopoeic words that have roots in the original sounds heard near them, such as a hole or pit that one would fall or cascade down.

Place names in Michigan – What does the Cass River mean?

This brings me to my climax or final statement that the name of place Cass Rivernamed after General Lewis Cass, was used because the root of his original name was in the Latin word “casus” meaning person of the reef or trapper.

The toponym Cass River seems to mean the river of the fur trapper.

Place Names in Michigan – Where is Fur Country

The Peles Country

It is similar to “The Peles Countrywhich Michigan’s Thumb was once called and means Hides Country or Fur Trapper’s Home.

[Ed Note: The map makes note of the rest of Michigan as La Pays élevé or “The High Country” for years, early maps of lower Michigan erroneously depicted high plains or even a mountain range going down the middle of the state. See the 1755 Bellin Map of The Great Lakes. ]

In 1755, the French called the Thumb of Michigan “la Pays Peles”, which means the country of skins [, furs, or pelts.] I understand in Ojibwe, that “Zibii-wayann-aki” means the river in fur country, which we see today in the Thumb as the town of Sebewaing. The Cass River was once called O’Nottaway-Sebewing, which certainly meant the O’Nottaway River in fur or pelt country. This is how the old people spoke or sang. The most common name for thumb in earlier years was the French name La Pays Plat. The English knew it as Flat Country because the transliteration of the French name was le pays plat.

Oh, the thought of those trap-based falling and cascading sounds.
Perhaps, though all this writing is nil, empty, or vain and will eventually give way or decline.
Maybe my thoughts are just vain, meaningless and hollow!
Oh, but it’s exciting to hold the coins and other handy valuables in the storage or piggy bank and feel the character of the cashier.

Maybe it’s stuff that’s old for you. . . but for me it never gets redundant or old.


Other works by Mark Putnam

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