Michigan is full of counties with interesting names. Emily Bingham at MLive Media recently wrote an interesting article detailing the origins behind the names for each of Michigan’s 83 counties.
The man responsible for naming many of our counties was Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a 19th-century geographer and ethnologist who studied and wrote about Native American cultures and languages.
Below is the information from Bingham’s article for each of the counties in the 36th District. If you want to see the background for every county in the state, click here to read the entire MLive article.
Alcona County in the northeast Lower Peninsula was originally named Negwegon after a Chippewa chief. In 1843, the county’s name was changed to Alcona — a Schoolcraft neologism that possibly meant “an excellent plain.”
Alpena County was originally named Anamickee County after a regional chief; the word may have meant “thunder” — which could have had a connection to the name origins of Thunder Bay, along which the county sits. The county was given the name Alpena by Schoolcraft, who may have intended for the neologism to mean “bird country” or “partridge country.”
Arenac County is another one named by Schoolcraft. It’s said he created the word as an amalgam of “arena” (whose roots are in the Latin word “harena,” meaning “sand,” often in the context of sand used for footing during gladiator combats) and “ac,” which meant “place of.” This “place of sand” borders the shoreline of Saginaw Bay.
Henry Gladwin was a British officer who helped defend Fort Detroit during what’s known as Pontiac’s Rebellion: a 1763 uprising among Great Lakes Native American tribes as they sought to resist British rule in the region. The Lower Peninsula’s Gladwin County bears the officer’s name.
Iosco County sits on Tawas Bay, north of Saginaw. It was originally named “Kanotin” after an Odawa chief, but in 1843 it was given one of the pseudo-Native American names coined by Schoolcraft; this one supposedly meant “water of light.”
The county of Midland’s name is pretty simple: It’s close to being in the middle of the Lower Peninsula.
Originally named Cheonoquet County after a Chippewa chief, this county was renamed to Montmorency (originally spelled “Montmorenci”) in 1843. The exact origins of the name are unclear, but theories suggest it may have referred to either a French duke or the first Roman Catholic bishop of Canada, both of whom had Montmorency/Montmorenci in their names.
History texts suggest Oscoda County’s name is another one manufactured by Henry Schoolcraft, this time to mean “stoney field,” with its roots in the words “ossin,” meaning stone, and “muskoda,” meaning prairie.
Otsego County’s name is Native American in origin, but it isn’t from a local source. It was likely named for a lake and county in New York whose names derived from an Iroquoian word meaning “clear water,” “welcome water,” or “meeting place.” Michigan’s Otsego County was originally named Okkuddo County.
Presque Isle County
In French, “presque isle” means “nearly an island” — which was a nod to the narrow-necked peninsula of land jutting out into Lake Huron here.