What’s in a Name? Part 3: Minnesota Counties Named After People Who Came to Minnesota

Today, we wrap up a series we started last week on the origins of Minnesota county names. (Earlier posts on this topic were: Minnesota Counties with Indigenous Names, and Minnesota County Names Honoring National Figures.)

Nearly half of Minnesota counties are named for early explorers, settlers, soldiers, businessmen, and politicians who have some connection to this place. Some were named for historical bit players, others for wheeler dealers. Some county names have troubling back stories, honoring people who had institutional roles in grave mistreatment of American Indians; other county names have a more humorous background.

We’ll start on the lighter side.

Becker County is named for Brigadier General George Loomis Becker, a relative unknown. According to Wikipedia: “Becker was one of three men elected to congress when Minnesota became a state, but since Minnesota could only send two, Becker elected to stay behind, and he was promised to have a county named after him.” Continue reading

What’s in a Name, Part II: MN County Names Honoring National Figures

We started a series of posts this week reviewing the significance of Minnesota’s county names. We started by reviewing county names with Native origins. Today, we look at county names honoring national figures. In some cases, their reputations don’t hold up in the light of historical knowledge and reflection, especially when using a Native American lens.

In some ways, county names are like Capitol art. You can walk by art and never really look at the symbols or consider its historic meaning; it’s just part of the background. Likewise, we rarely think about the symbolism of our county names.

There are 13 Minnesota counties named after national figures who have no  connection to this state. All honor men. Some names are tied to the Civil War, which erupted just after Minnesota statehood.

We don’t have ready access to the deliberations that drove civic leaders to choose their county names. Sometimes short background is available county websites. Here is some of what we now know about our county namesakes.

Let’s start with Lyon County, named for Nathaniel Lyon, the first U.S. General killed in the Civil War. He fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War, but we focus on his military action in California. According to both Wikipedia and the Civil War Trust, Lyon participated in several Native American massacres, notably the Bloody Island Massacre. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Part 1: Minnesota Counties with Indigenous Names

We have spent a lot of time analyzing art in the Minnesota State Capitol and the people and historic events it honors. Now let’s shift gears and look at the names of Minnesota’s counties. What people, places and symbols do they honor?

Minnesota has 87 counties, so we will break this blog into several parts. We’ll start with the easy ones — the county names derived from the languages of Minnesota’s Native peoples, or names that are English translations of original Native names. These names help remember this state’s original inhabitants.

There are 13 counties named for Native people and/or use native words. Alphabetically, they are: Continue reading