Book Blogging: The States of Our Union Are Misspelled


Photo: Wikimedia CommonsPhoto: Wikimedia CommonsI recently picked up a copy of George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land. It’s a fascinating account of the naming of America: How we got places like Mugfuzzle Flats, Coeur d’Alene, and Fort Worth, and (to put it in unsufferable press release-ese) what that says about us.

Among other things, we learn that the Senate debate over the naming of West Virgina briefly devolved into a discussion of whether Queen Elizabeth was, in fact, a virgin. And that before Congress settled on “Nevada” (over the superior and geographically relevant “Washoe”), there was a proposal to name it “Bullion,” after its only notable export.

The big revelation, though, is that despite all appearances to the contrary, “Oregon” is actually a misspelling of “Wisconsin.” Or rather, it’s a corruption of the original French corruption of the original Native American word. A somewhat erroneous 17th-century French explorer suggested that the Wisconsin River might lead all the way to the Pacific Ocean, so when the Americans finally got around to the Pacific Northwest, it seemed like a logical name. Here’s the process, according to Stewart:

Wisconsin <— Ouisconsink —> Ouariconsint —> Ouaricon-sint —> Ouaricon —> Ourigan —> Ouragon —> Oregon

Simple enough, I guess. Anyways, this officially makes Oregon redundant. Perhaps Obama can address this in his State of the Union?*

*Update: No.

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  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.