Vol. 47 No. 3 (1999)
Research Article

The Origin and Meaning of ‘Missouri’

Published 1999-09-01



The name Missouri derives from 8emessourit, an Algonquian term that refers to “people with canoes (made from logs),” and the popular mistranslation “muddy water” derives from Pekitanoui, an Algonquian name for the river. These terms were first used in 1673 by Marquette in his journal and on his map of the Mississippi River and it tributaries. Within a generation, French explorers and cartographers, using a variety of spellings and grammatical forms, had simplified the name to Missouri and applied it to the river as well as to the people, completely abandoning Pekitanoui. Those who lived on its banks—the Otos and Missouris—had other (Siouan) terms for the river. The word Missouri has become a popular American toponym and now is used in over 300 names in the USGS database.


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