- Published: 02 October 2008
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Bruce Olson, age 13, of Selma, Alabama, for his question:
How did the Mississippi River get its name?
People of other countries often boggle at the name of our Big River. But we Americans are used to it. We like the sound of it and our history is woven with magnificent memories about it. But once in a while, even we wonder about the big word Mississippi. It does not seem to be related to the other words of our native language. And this is true. The settlers from the old World borrowed the name Mississippi from the Ojibway American Indians. In their language, "misi" meant "big" and their word for "river" was "sipi." You must agree that Mississippi was the very best name in the world we could have chosen for our Big River.
In early days, the numerous Ojibways roamed throughout our eastern states and around the Great Lakes. They were related to the Algonquins and their tribe was the largest in North America. They were skilled at hunting and trapping, building canoes and weaving mats. The poetic legends of the Ojibways inspired Longfellow to write the story of Hiawatha.