Wisconsin January 27, 2018
Most People Don’t Know The Meaning Behind These 11 Wisconsin Town Names
Thanks to “Wayne’s World,” everyone thinks Milwaukee means “The Good Land,” though “The Gathering Place by the Water” is probably a better translation. And Madison is pretty obviously named for the President James Madison. But what about all the other cities and towns all around the Dairy State? Many come from Native Americans or French explorers, but some have even more unusual beginnings than that.
Here are 11 Wisconsin towns and the interesting stories behind how they got their name.
Chilton's name is actually a bit of a mistake. An Englishman, John Maryland, wanted to name the town after his home in England, Chillington Hall. But the name was relayed to the county clerk verbally and he apparently misunderstood, recording the name is Chilton, which it's been ever since.
Every man from Loyal signed up to fight in the US Civil War and the town name was born.
The name comes from a Native American word for "place of skulls" and is attributed to its location near the Butte des Morts burial ground. Another story says there was a battle here between the Sauks and Foxes and the French, Menominee, and Chippewa, and the reference to bones is from the carnage left by that war.
This small town between Portage and Stevens Point was named for a California town where gold was found, maybe hoping it would bright the new settlement luck?
Native Americans believed they saw a spirit at the mouth of what is now the Manitowoc River as it enters Lake Michigan. Manitou was the Indian word for spirit. And woe meant home, which is why it’s called "home of the spirit."
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Originally called Union, this town kept growing and eventually existed on both sides of the Rock River with the other side calling themselves Concord. In order to unify the groups and come to a consensus, they pulled letters from a hat. They chose to order them this way and called the town Ixonia from there on out.
7. Egg Harbor
This story is a bit too silly to seem real, but it's fun nonetheless. Supposedly fur traders who had left Green Bay and were headed to Mackinac Island pulled in here to stop for the night. There were two ships and their men decided to have a race to see who could get to shore first. They started pelting each other with whatever was at hand in order to impede their progress. One of the things used was eggs and the name stuck to commemorate the "battle" that had occurred there.
Though Lawrence University is named for its founder, Amos Lawrence, the city got named for one of his relatives, who donated $10,000 to help with the founding of the university. Books in the Lawrence library used to be marked with a portrait of Samuel Appleton.
Before it was Freedom, the village was called Sagola, an Indian word that means "good morning." But an escaped slave named James Jackson made the area his home. To honor him, the town council wanted to change the name to Jackson, but Mr. Jackson suggested the name Freedom, as it was where he was finally free.
Many places in Wisconsin got their names from the French explorers that came through the area. Trempealeau is maybe one of the oddest examples. Translated to French it means "Mountain with its Foot in the Lake." Apparently, explorers didn't so much name the spot as describe it —
French explorers called "la montagne qui trempe à l’eau."
11. Door County
Cheating a little here, since this isn't a city, but it's a pretty good story. Native Americans and French explorers called the channel of water between the Door County peninsula and Washington Island "Death's Door" or "Portes de Mortes." The treacherous waters were well known and well traveled. The passage was a doorway they had to take and the name stuck.
Does your town name have an interesting origin story? Let us know in the comments.
Looking for some more Wisconsin town name fun?
Check out these fun to say Wisconsin towns.