The Literal Translation of Places in Canada & the United States

The United States and Canada are relatively young nations – but they exist on historic land. If the last few centuries have seen a European way of life spring up with unprecedented haste, it has not been without serious consequences for the people and the environment that existed here beforehand. One way that we can teach the kids about this important heritage is to look into the ways that familiar place names today reference the past. Many state and province names have been taken directly from the native words with which they were previously associated.

Take Manitoba, for instance. Nobody is 100% sure where the name came from, except that it is surely derived from native words. The leading theory is that traders and explorers heard the Cree or Ojibway Indian words “Manito” and “Wapow” in the area, names which seem to refer to two of the islands in the area of the lake known as The Narrows. Manito referred to the spirits that they believed they heard there, while Wapow refers to the strait itself. Over the years, immigrants came to shorten it to Manitoba, and when the province entered the Confederation in 1870 that is the name it was given.

Further south, Wyoming was the center of an extended period of struggle between the natives and the white immigrants who came by way of Connecticut. The Iroquois sold the land on behalf of the Six Nations tribes, although the purchasers were quick to turn a blind eye to those natives who actually lived on the land. We’re not quite sure, then, whether the word comes from the Algonquin or the Delaware language, but ‘Wyoming’ almost certainly describes the features of the land – its prairies or its mountains and valleys, depending on how it is translated.

For their new infographic showing the literal names of famous American places, Expedia has chosen to name Wyoming, ‘At The Big River Flat’. It’s a romantic name that reflects a complex period of our history. For more insights, why not check it out with the children and make a project of exploring the facts behind the strange place names of our awesome continent?

The Literal Translation of Places in Canada & the United States

The Literal Translation of Places in Canada & the United States, courtesy of

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