Minnesota has been a state since 1858, but its history goes back much further. The
earliest human remains found in our state date back to around 9,000 years ago. Given the state’s long and varied heritage – Native American, German, French, Scandinavian – it’s no surprise that we have some unusual place names. But you may find that these 16 towns aren’t that strange once you learn the full story.
1. Climax, Polk County
Climax is tiny - just under 300 people - but most of us have heard of it because of its unusual name. But ithe origin isn't what you think - the town's name comes from a chewing tobacco company.
2. Lake Elmo, Washington County
Nope, it's not named for everybody's favorite muppet. Lake Elmo the city is named after Lake Elmo the lake, which is named after
St. Elmo, an 1866 novel by August Jane Evans. The jury is still out on why - Evans had no connection to Minnesota.
3. Ball Club, Itasca County
Ball Club is named after a Native American lacrosse stick.
4. Sleepy Eye, Brown County
Sleepy Eye is named after Ishtakaba, a Native American chief also known as Chief Sleepy Eye.
5. Nowthen, Anoka County
Nowthen just became an official city in 2008, so its history is easy to trace. The name comes from the first postmaster, who often said "Now, then."
6. Ponemah, Beltrami County
Ponemah is another name with a literary history. This one comes from "Song of Hiawatha," the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It's derived from an Ojibwe word meaning "later" or "afterwards."
7. Ely, St. Louis County
We all know Ely as a great place to spend some time up north, but have you ever stopped to think about what the name means? Samuel B. Ely was known by the mining town for promoting ore from the area, so they named the town after him. Weirdly, Samuel was from Michigan and never set foot in his namesake city.
8. Clontarf, Swift County
This name sounds like a made-up language, but it's a real place in western Minnesota. But it's actually named for an Irish city by the same name.
9. Duluth, St. Louis County
Duluth was named for Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, the first known European to visit the area. That's quite the mouthful - I'm glad they went with "Duluth."
10. Quamba, Kanabec County
Quamba is said to be derived from the Ottawa word for "mudhole." But look on the bright side, Quambans. Yours is the only town in Minnesota that starts with Q.
11. Pokegama, Pine County
Say it with me: po-KAY-guh-muh. It comes from an Ojibwe word that means "at the lakeside." Very fitting, since Pokegama Lake is one of the most popular in the area.
12. Nimrod, Wadena County
It may sound funny, but Nimrod is actually the name of a powerful man in the Bible.
13. Wawina, Itasca County
Wawina is said to come from an Ojibwe word meaning "I name him often." Who's him? We may never know.
14. Thief River Falls, Pennington County
Thief River Falls comes from another Ojibwe word, this one meaning "stolen land river." Here's the story: a group of Dakota Indians were found on a stretch of river by the Ojibwe - thus stealing it - until they were forced to leave.
15. Tenstrike, Beltrami County
Nothing too crazy here: they think Tenstrike refers to bowling. Seriously. The nearest bowling alley is 8 miles away, in Blackduck.
16. Mahnomen, Mahnomen County
If you think about all the names we have in Minnesota that have to do with rice - Rice, Rice Lake, Rice River, Rice Creek - you won't be surprised by Mahnomen. It comes from an Ojibwe word for the nearby Wild Rice River.
Have you ever been to any of these towns? Do you know of any other towns with an interesting story behind its name?
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