Wordcatcher Tales: Kitchi Gammi, Nahgahchiwanong Adaawewigamig

While visiting family in Minneapolis over Spring Break, we made a long day trip up to Duluth and back. One of the architects (Oliver G. Traphagen) who designed many of Duluth’s finest buildings during its boom years in the 1880s and 1890s came to booming Honolulu in 1898, where he designed many more notable buildings, including both heavy stone (Richardsonian Romanesque) buildings and the graceful Moana Hotel, the first hotel on Waikiki Beach. The last Honolulu building Traphagen designed before he moved to Alameda, California, in 1907 (to help rebuild after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) was the Punahou School president’s home.

Kitchi Gammi – Another far more famous architect who left his mark on Duluth and Honolulu, as well as San Diego, New York City, and many other cities, was Bertram Goodhue. In Duluth, he designed the Kitchi Gammi Club (1912) and the nearby Hartley Building (1914) on E. Superior Street along the lake shore.

The club name, Kitchi Gammi (15,700 ghits), of course, comes from the Chippewa/Ojibwe name for Lake Superior, gichigami (13,300 ghits) ‘large lake’, which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow spelled Gitche Gumee (98,300 ghits) and translated ‘Big-Sea-Water’ in “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855). Gordon Lightfoot used Longfellow’s spelling in the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976).

The name Hiawatha comes from a legendary Iroquois hero, and the name of his lover Minnehaha means ‘waterfall’ in Dakota, a Siouan language. Neither name is from Ojibwe, or even the Algonquian language family. The minne- that occurs in so many Minnesota place names comes from the Dakota root for ‘water’, mní-, which has the same shape in the closely related Lakota language farther west, according to the New Lakota Dictionary Online. The Rum River, which empties into the Mississippi just above Minneapolis, also gets its name from a mistranslation of the Dakota name for Spirit/Mystic River (Wakpa waḳaŋ lit. ‘River spirit’; cf. Waḳaŋ Taŋka ‘Great Spirit’).

Nahgahchiwanong Adaawewigamig – On the way back from Duluth, we detoured through Cloquet, Minnesota, to see the R. W. Lindholm Service Station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1958 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Then we stopped for a snack at Carmen’s Restaurant just across the street from a convenience store and gas station emblazoned with the words Nahgahchiwanong Adaawewigamig and the logo of the Fond du Lac Reservation.

I asked a young man who worked there whether he spoke Chippewa/Ojibwe. He said he spoke some, and translated the name for me as “where the water ends”—the same meaning the Voyageurs rendered into Fond du Lac in French. The Chippewa/Ojibwe name for Fond du Lac is now spelled Nagaajiwanaang, and adaawewigamig just means ‘store, shop’. Ojibwe speakers tend to create neologisms rather than borrow directly from French or English. By the way, the Chippewa/Ojibwe name for the St. Louis River, which empties into Lake Superior at Fond du Lac, is called gichigami-ziibi ‘Great-lake River’, the same ziibi that shows up in the various names for stretches of the Mississippi River, including gichi-ziibi and misi-ziibi in Ojibwe, both of which can translate into ‘Great/Big River’.

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Filed under Canada, language, North America, travel, U.S.

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