“Good morning Linda. Could you please help clear up how the Mississippi lake/river got its name. Often heard it was a native name that the early settlers could not pronounce so they called it the Mississippi as its source was still unknown. Is there any truth to this? Thank you.” Steve Van Viet.
In 1820 many small settlements began to spring up along the banks of the Mississippi river up to Morphy’s Falls now Carleton Place. On several of the islands in Mississippi Lake the settlers found Algonquin aboriginals encamped who considered the Mississippi lakes northern shore their hunting ground. Did you know most forests along the shores are less than a century old? It has also been said wild mink can still be spotted along the northern shores of Mississippi Lake.
Beginning at its headwaters in Mazinaw Lake, it winds 124 miles through the historic landscape of Eastern Ontario to the Ottawa River. Pioneers and lumber barons, traders and cottagers; all have lived and died along the river’s course.
The origin of the river’s name is something of a mystery; although its current spelling may be derived from that of its much larger American cousin, it is most certainly a corruption of a different native name, as the translation ‘great water’ would not apply to a relatively minor tributary of the Ottawa, definitely the largest river in the area. Instead, the name may originate from “Mazinaa[bikinigan]-ziibi”, Algonquian for ‘[painted] image river’, referring to the pictographs found on Mazinaw Lake, though this is by no means proven. —Wikipedia
At some point in history, it’s pronunciation drifted from the Algonquin to the Americanized ‘Mississippi’. Of course the “Americanized” Mississippi is itself derived from the Ojibwa (Chippewa Indian) language ‘misi-zibbi’ meaning “great river” or literally, “river of the falls.
So Steve– when I grew up in Quebec we spoke Joual. (Quebec French made up from a mixture of local English and French words). I can probably assume this is what happened in the early days of Morphy Falls. Much like speaking Joual the Aboriginal word ‘misi-zibbi’ soon became pronounced Mississippi by the local settlers.
So Steve– I also contacted the local history goddesses -From the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum-Jayne Henry and Jennifer Fenwick Irwin
I have no clear answer about the origin of the name but I’ll try to offer some insight from the little research I did. Be forewarned this is mostly just my opinion. I would agree that the name Mississippi means big river and comes from the Chippewa (who are the major tribe of the Algonquin people’s) words “missi meaning “large,” and sippi meaning ‘flowing water,” which taken together literally mean “large river.” I got that quote from a website which I’m going to attach to this email for you to read too even though its talking about the American river. I THINK that the lake was probably named Mississippi first because it’s the largest body of water in the area so obviously “big water” makes sense for it. I think that the river was just given the same name because it is the only notable water way coming out of the lake.
http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v006/v006p529.html This is the American article on the subject of their “Big River” name.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. All Photos of the Canadian Mississippi River in Ontario, Canada by Linda Seccaspina