Lake Michigan was first

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan, photo by GLASman1.

This coming Thursday (January 26) is Michigan’s 175th Birthday (#mich175 on twitter). We’re making a big fuss of it with a 175th Birthday Bash on Absolute Michigan, and this morning I inadvertently stumbled on a piece of Michigan’s heritage that I guess I never really thought about.

Wikipedia’s Lake Michigan entry begins:

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. The other four Great Lakes are shared by the US and Canada. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia).

Hydrologically, the lake is a large bay of Lake Michigan-Huron, having the same surface elevation as Lake Huron (among other shared properties). It is bounded, from west to east, by the U.S. states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. The word “Michigan” originally referred to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa word mishigami meaning “great water”.

It makes complete sense to me that the Lake was first. However, since I’m pretty much never able to leave ambiguities un-investigated, I dug up a discussion thread about the origin of “Michigan” from the Ojibwe Language Society Miinawaa. One member listed a few variants:

mishigami = large lake
mishigamaa = large lake
mishi’igan = large lake
mishigaam = large shoreline

and then another member wrote

my understanding of the word ‘Michigan’–which may be different from others’–is that it comes from ‘michi-zaaga’igan’, which means ‘only/just/nothing else but a lake’ [michi ‘only, just, that’s all there is’ + zaaga’igan ‘lake’].

If you think about Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and how you might perceive them before aerial capability or maps, wouldn’t they seem like one big lake to someone questing to walk or paddle the shoreline of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula? The “only lake”? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Check this out bigger and in Mark’s Point Betsie Lighthouse slideshow.

More Lake Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.

4 thoughts on “Lake Michigan was first

  1. The word Michigan or its variation reach all the way to Mexico too. The state of Michoacana has lake based meaning. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia.

    The name Michoacán is from Nahuatl: Michhuahkan from michhuah (“possessor of fish”) and -kan (place of) and means “place of the fishermen” referring to those who fish on Lake Pátzcuaro.

    I love the picks, keep up the good work.

    On Twitter @SamDabish


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