MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On May 11, 1858, Minnesota officially became the 32nd state. So, Cassandra from Cannon Falls asks: How did Minnesota get its name? Good Question.

Minnesota is one of 28 states whose name is derived from Native Americans.

“The name ‘Minnesota’ is a Dakota name,” said Adam Scher, senior curator at the Minnesota Historical Society. “The state is named after the Minnesota River. ‘Mni’ is the Dakota word for water.”

But “Sota,” Scher says, has two different interpretations: Some say it’s “sky-tinted,” while others call it “cloudy.”

An explanation of the names from the Minnesota Historical Society shares a story where Dakota women would put milk in the water to explain to settlers what the idea of cloudy water meant.

Scher says the fact that the clay along the Minnesota River is slightly blue, and could explain the ‘sky-tinted’ definition.

According to Gwen Westerman, author of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, the direct translation is “land where the water is so clear it reflects the sky.” She says that is the version of the Dakota name used in the Treaty of 1851.

“Minnehaha” means “tumbling” or “jumbled water,” and “Minnetonka” means “big water,” while “Minnetrista” means crooked water.

“We’ve got a variation of these Dakota words to describe primarily geographical characteristics, and those become the names of those towns and cities,” Scher said.

Heather Brown


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