Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

The Origin of Milwaukee

Mahn-a-waukke

The origin of Milwaukee | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

Milwaukee takes its name from the river, which had been the site of an Indian village since Wisconsin was first known to Europeans. The area was known to have been an Indian council place, believed to have been rising ground in the vicinity of modern Wisconsin Ave. and Fifth St. The word means "council place." It is equivalent to "good land"

It was pronounced by Indians as "Meneawkee" or "Mahnawaukee," probably a Potawatomi word meaning "a rich beautiful land."  Early Wisconsin settler Joshua Hathaway believed that the final name was derived from the blending of two words, "Mellioke," the old name of the river, and "Mahn-a-waukke," the gathering place.

Many spellings were given to the city's name until it officially became "Milwaukee" in 1844. 

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[Source: Sheboygan Daily Press, March 19, 1936; Milwaukee Journal, Oct 30, 1921; Milw. Public Museum Bull 6:399; Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 16, 1926; Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1909:219-231.]