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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Search Results for: the letter 'W', Term Type: 'Things'

Term: Wau [origin of place name]


Many geographic names in Wisconsin contain the syllable "wau," such as Milwaukee and Wausau. Residents and visitors often ask what this means, since it appears so often on highway signs and maps. The answer is that it doesn't seem to mean anything by itself, but rather is just a syllable in longer constructions that have various meanings.

More than a dozen American Indian languages have been spoken in Wisconsin since white observers arrived (Dakota, Ho-Chunk, Huron, Kickapoo, Menominee, Mesquakie, Miami, Mohican, Ojibwe, Oneida, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Sauk). Although some are closely connected, others are as linguistically distinct from one another as are English, Chinese, and Hebrew.

Wisconsin place names that include "wau" may have come from any of these and will therefore have a different meaning in each case.

For example, Wausau may be derived from the Ojibwe waasa, meaning "far away," perhaps because it was far from centers of Ojibwe culture on Lake Superior. Other Ojibwe names using "wau" appear to involve light or the dawn; they may be connected to waabanong, the direction east. The name Waukesha is thought to derive from waagosh, fox, and Wauwatosa from waawaatese, firefly; these places are within traditional Potawatomi territory, and Ojibwe and Potawatomi are closely related languages.

Early white observers frequently did not record which language their informants spoke, nor even distinguish between separate languages. Some explained the meanings of place names by using languages that were rarely spoken in the area, as if one could use German to explain the names of towns in China.

Explanations appearing in historical sources such as newspapers or local histories must therefore be approached with caution.

The most reliable work on this subject is Virgil Vogel's "Indian Names on Wisconsin's Map" (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1992).

[Source: Vogel, Vogel. Indian Names on Wisconsin's Map (Madison, 1992); personal communications from Dr. Monica Macaulay and librarian Omar Poler, Univ. of Wisconsin.]

86 records found

Wabashaw Prairie
Wade House
wall rock (mining)
Walworth County Ploughboys (Civil War)
Wanagan (logging)
War of 1812
Washington Island
Waterloo Rifles (Civil War)
waterspout (meteorology)
Watertown German Volunteers (Civil War)
Watertown Irish Company (Civil War)
Watertown Rifles (Civil War)
wattle (farming)
Wau [origin of place name]
Waukesha Minute Men (Civil War)
Waukesha Union Guard (Civil War)
Waupacca and Portage County Union Rifles (Civil Wa
Waupun Light Guard (Civil War)
Waupun Rifles (Civil War)
way car (railroads)
wear [weir] (farming)
weather deck (maritime)
wheat cultivation
wheel (maritime)
wheelsman (maritime)
whey (farming)
Whiffletree-neckyoke (logging)
Whig Party
Whiskey-jack (logging)
Whitaker Guards (Civil War)
Whitewater (Civil War)
Whitewater Co. No. 3 (Civil War)
Widow-maker (logging)
wild cats
wild rice
Wilderness, Battle of the
Williamstown Union Rifles (Civil War)
winch (maritime)
Wind-fall (logging)
windlass (farming)
windlass (maritime)
Wing-dam (logging)
Wing-ding (logging)
Wing-jam (logging)
Winnebago Rapids
Winnebago War (1827)
Wisconsin (oldest cities and towns)
Wisconsin (state)
Wisconsin (statistics)
Wisconsin (territory)
Wisconsin Blue Book
Wisconsin Chair Co.
Wisconsin Dairymen's Association
Wisconsin Dance Bands
Wisconsin Emigrant Agency
Wisconsin Equal Rights Law (1921)
Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs (WFWC)
Wisconsin Home for Women (Taycheedah Correctional
Wisconsin Idea
Wisconsin Light Guard (Civil War)
Wisconsin state fair
Wisconsin State Federation of Labor
Wisconsin State flag
Wisconsin State Prison (Waupun Correctional Instit
Wisconsin Union Riflemen (Civil War)
Wisconsin Veterans' Home (Waupaca)
Wisconsin Yagers (Civil War)
withers (farming)
Witness-tree (logging)
woman suffrage movement
Woman's Christian Temperance Union
Wood Protectors (Civil War)
Woodland culture (archaeology)
works (Civil War)
World War One (1914-1918)
World War Two (1939-1945)
World's Columbian Exposition
worm gear (maritime)
WPA (in Wisconsin)
Wylie Guards (Civil War military unit)

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