Indian encampment on Lake Huron

American Indian Names of Michigan’s Saginaw Valley and Thumb

Michigan Indian Place Names
Indians Canoeing / Library and Archives Canada,

Michigan Indian Place Names are important historical records of the Saginaw Valley and Upper Thumb. We have found this brief sketch about the original names from the Anishinaabeg. There are amazing ties to many local places and rivers and each has a unique meaning.

Anishinaabe is the autonym for a group of culturally related indigenous peoples resident in what is now Canada and the United States. These tribes include the Odawa, Saulteaux, Ojibwe (or Chippewa), Potawatomi, Oji-Cree, and Algonquin peoples.

Due to the ideal locations that were in sync with the land, the Anishinaabeg villages have become prosperous cities and villages we live and work in today. We have augmented this list with place names we have found in research along the way.

Indian Place Names

Bad River called Much-a-see-bee, meaning bad river.

Bagoning as Anishinaabe, Che-boy-gone-ing, meaning a river to gather wild rice.

Bay City had no name. It was confined to West Bay City, which was called Nish-qua-ta-ong, meaning where the highlands come to the river.

Cass River was called Not-a-way-sebe, meaning a black peculiar snake, now extinct, on that river.

Charity Island – In Anishinaabe, known as “Shawangunk”. The French denoted the island as Shawagunk on their maps of the region.

Chesaning is an Anishinaabeg name and signifies a big stone in the river.

The City of Flint called Sco-ta-wa-ing, meaning the burnt openings.

Flint River referenced as Pe-an-a-go-win-see-be, the meaning of which was flintstones in the river, or flint river.

Green Point called Shi-was-go-conk, meaning a green place.

Huron – Named for the lake (Lac des Hurons) the French named for the Native American tribe they called “hure” (Hurons)–meaning “head”–when they saw the fantastic way they dressed their hair. The tribe referred to itself as “Wendat” (Wyandotte), meaning “dwellers on a peninsula.”

Katechay Island – The Chippewa word “kadawa” means it is hidden with “Tchag” means good or provision. Katechay means the cache.

Kawkawlin was called O-kaw-kaw-ning, the meaning of which is the pickerel river.

Midland referenced as Ne-sau-wau-ko-sing, meaning the forks of the river.

Owosso called by the whites after a celebrated chief of the Shiawassee band of Chippewa Indians, called Wasso.

Petobe referred to as Pe-to-be-gong, meaning water inside of the land.

Pinconning called O-pin-a-kan-ning, meaning a place to get wild potatoes.

Quanicassee River – “The Bear and the Lady’s or Squaw Creek”


Saginaw Area Place Names

Saganing was called Pau-saugh-e-gah-a-ning, meaning a place to get cedar to make frames for bark canoes.

Saginaw City referred to as Ba-sho-a-ning, meaning camping ground.

Saginaw – Ojibwe word “sagenong” meaning “place of the outlet”.


Indian Place Names
Ojibwa village at Saint Ste. Marie in 1846. Painting by Paul Kane (1810-71).

Sanilac County – Chief Sanilac of the Wyandot people.

Sandusky – Wyandot word “saundustee” meaning “water”.

O-sag-a-nong meant the Saginaw valley, meaning the land of the Sacs.

East Saginaw referred to as, Me-ta-guab-o-kee, meaning a place to get hickory for bows and arrows.

Sebewaing means little creek. The Ojibwe word “ziibiiweng” meaning “river place”.

Shiawassee River from Shi-a-way-sake, meaning straight river.

Tittabawassee from Tit-a-be-way-sake, meaning the river that heads north towards the bay.

Pinnepog or Pinnebog – Chippewa for ‘partridge drum’.

Tuscola County – “Flatlands”.

Tawas City and East Tawas – after Michigan Indian Chief O-ta-was

Zilwaukee from Me-ta-gong, meaning where the timber first comes to the river.



Related Stories with Michigan Native Topics

  • The Indian Villages of the Upper Thumb Upon its ninety miles of shoreline were numerous Indian villages and camps. These were found due to the debris left by the dwellers. The Indians in Huron County Michigan had a village site every few miles along the shore of Saginaw Bay.
  • The Major Indian Trail from Saginaw to Pointe Aux Barques It’s called several names; Sand Road, Trail Road, and Old Sand Road. While it’s said that M-25 took the place of much of the trail, the area between Bay Port and Port Austin has miles of the old trail still intact.

Sources of Michigan Indian Place Names

The Saginaw Valley. p. 277, Pioneer Collections Report of the historical Society of the State of Michigan. 1898

The Meaning of Place Names in Michigan’s Thumb By Mark R. Putnam


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1 thought on “American Indian Names of Michigan’s Saginaw Valley and Thumb”

  1. There were several very good ‘early’ articles about Native American place names….one of the finest was published through both the Totem Pole and The Michigan Archaeologist, authored by Walter Schmidt of Pinconning, who, at the bequest of Dr. Greenman at the University of Michigan, collected information for an ethnology Dr. Greenman was working on (ca., 1915-1920).

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