How Did Missouri get its Name?
Another state name? Yes! Why pick states that are not my own? Well, Kansas is where my father was born and some of my friends are Kaw. Missouri is where I went to school for two years. Specifically, my years at college before I went off to University. Also, in case you all have forgotten, my father and I have these lovely certificates of enrollment that say we are Otoe-Missouria. Yep, another state named after an Indian tribe. It happens quite a bit in the United States.
The Chiwere language is making a comeback on the Otoe-Missouria reservation at Red Rock, Oklahoma! I would like to think I have had a small part in the new found interest in the language from people outside of the tribe. Why? I have presented several papers on the Chiwere language at several language and linguistic conferences. So, what exactly does this have to do with the word Missouri? Much like the Kaw call themselves Kanza in their language, the Missouria do not call themselves that in Chiwere. In Chiwere the word for the Missouria tribe is Niúachi. However, the word Missouri is a word in Chiwere! Missouri is one of only three states that can proudly say that their state’s name comes from my tribe’s super, awesome, amazing language. Okay, I know I am a bit biased, but what can I say? I love my tribes’s language. By the way, the other states are Nebraska and Iowa.
So, what exactly does the word Missouri mean anyway? Missouri means “those who have dugout canoes”. The funny thing is that the word Niúachi means “people of the river mouth”. They do not mean the same thing. However, that is not to say that they do not have something to do with each other. While most maps will tell you that the Missouria tribe is from the area that is now Missouri, that is not what the tribe’s oral history shows. Even other tribe’s histories that reference them say otherwise. The Missouria originated up in the area of the Great Lakes and were nomadic in nature much like the other Chiwere tribes, the Otoe and Iowa. So, saying that the Missouria are the “people of the river mouth” and also “those who have dugout canoes” are probably both correct.