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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

[WHAT’S IN A NAME?] A history lesson on Minneapolis and Saint Paul

TWIN CITIES. There is a rich and painful history behind the names of the Twin Cities, one that dates back to the arrival of European settlers on Indigenous land.
Greyson Sale
TWIN CITIES. There is a rich and painful history behind the names of the Twin Cities, one that dates back to the arrival of European settlers on Indigenous land.

Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the Twin Cities, have long been regarded as diverse, melting pots of culture. This diversity is evident in many aspects of Twin Cities culture such as the large immigrant populations, events like the Festival of Nations and places like Midtown Global Market. However, nowhere is this diversity more evident than in the names of the cities themselves and the stories behind them. Specifically, their names are reminders of the trying history involving European settlers and Native American peoples, and the fact that we are living on native land.

Originally inhabited by Dakota communities, Saint Paul’s history was marked by the arrival of European settlers in the early 19th century, who established fur trading posts along the Mississippi River. The city was originally known as “Pig’s Eye,” for the first official (European) resident of the city, Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant. Parrant was a bootlegger (alcohol smuggler) who operated out of a cave, near what is now the West Seventh neighborhood. However, the city was renamed Saint Paul in 1841.

The name “Saint Paul” traces back to Father Lucien Galtier, a French priest and missionary who built and named a chapel after Saint Paul the Apostle, a Christian saint who lived from 5 A.D. to 65 A.D. in the Roman Empire, in what is now modern-day Turkey. The surrounding settlement gradually adopted the name in honor of this religious figure. The name reflects the strong Christian influences that had continued since the arrival of the early European settlers. It also carried symbolic significance, as Saint Paul the Apostle was known as a missionary and evangelist, qualities which resonated with Father Galtier. Saint Paul was officially incorporated as a city of the Minnesota Territory in 1854.

Founded as a flour milling center on the banks of the Mississippi River, Minneapolis quickly rose to prominence as a hub of industry and commerce. Specifically, Minneapolis was a huge player in the flour milling industry, earning the nickname “Mill City” and becoming the largest flour producer in the United States by the late 19th century. In 1852, the treasurer of Hennepin County, Charles Hoag, proposed the name Minneapolis and it was accepted.

Minneapolis” comes from the Dakota word “mni,” meaning water, and the Greek word “polis” meaning city. Long before the arrival of European settlers, the Dakota inhabited the land along the Mississippi River. The water served many important uses such as for travel and fishing. Thus, water is considered very important to the Dakota. The name Minnesota also derives from “mni” and roughly translates to “cloudy water” or “sky-tinted water.”

Furthermore, there are many additional instances of Dakota and other names of Native American origin being incorporated into places in the Twin Cities, throughout Minnesota and across the United States. Some well-known Minnesota names that borrow from Native languages include Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Mahnomen, Wabasha, Bemidji, Chanhassen, Chaska, Mahtomedi, Mankato, Mendota, Minnehaha, Minnetonka, Shakopee, Wayzata and Winona. So, yes, Native American names are everywhere in Minnesota. Often, they are so engrained into Minnesotan culture that people can forget to recognize the important history and people that these names represent.

I think it’s very important to learn about the history of where you live.

— Trevor Hou

For all of the Native American names that Minnesota and the Twin Cities do have, however, there are just as many that have been renamed. For example, Wita Tanka, an island at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in Saint Paul, was renamed Pike Island. Places like these have been the root of many controversies regarding their rightful names. In some cases, the names have even been switched back as local communities have protested. For example, Lake Calhoun, located near downtown Minneapolis, was recently returned to its original name, Bde Maka Ska. This situation was especially notable given John C. Calhoun, whom the lake had been named after, was known as a fierce advocate of slavery.

In considering all of the various aspects of Minnesotan culture, from Native American influences to European influences to influences from all around the world, it is important to recognize and respect all of them. Regardless of personal opinions, it is important that everybody learn the history behind these influences, and names are a great place to start.

“I think it’s very important to learn about the history of where you live,” sophomore Trevor Hou said. “A lot of times, we don’t get that in school, especially because everybody lives in different places, and we can’t cover where everyone lives. But the history of where you live plays a huge role in what goes on today in your community with the local politics, economy, and social stuff.”

Whether from Minneapolis or Saint Paul or anywhere else, there is bound to be a good story hidden behind the name of everyone’s city— so go learn about it.

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About the Contributor
Greyson Sale, News editor
Hi, I’m Greyson Sale (he/him). I work as a News Editor for the Rubicon Online. At school, I play soccer and run track, am a member of SoCLC, and am a member of the People for Environmental Protection Club. Outside of school, I love rock climbing and get to compete all over the country. I can be reached at [email protected].

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