Thursday, February 12, 2015

Research Q of the Week: The Story Behind Your City’s Name (2/12/15)

Question: Do you have any info on the origins of my city's name?

Did you know that you can get quick access to the story behind your city’s name by searching Minnesota Place Names, a geographical encyclopedia available through the Minnesota Historical Society’s website? This resource was created by Warren Upham, who has been described as “a compulsive collector of minutiae who gathered Minnesota’s geographic names from 1879 until his book was first published in 1920.”

For example, here’s the name story for the city of Ada—the first city listed in the League’s City Directory. (We at the League love all Minnesota Cities equally; so I used a neutral method to choose two cities to highlight.) The city of Ada was named in honor of a daughter of William H. Fisher of St. Paul, who was an attorney and the superintendent of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Ada Nelson Fisher was six-years old when she died in 1880, and the city was named after her to perpetuate her name and memory.

And here’s the name story for the city of Zumbrota. Yes, you guessed it—Zumbrota is the last city listed in the City Directory. The city of Zumbrota was the site of the 1857 Zumbrota Covered Bridge, the only covered bridge in Minnesota at that time and the first bridge built over the north branch of the Zumbro River. According to Minnesota Place Names, the Zumbro River’s name is derived (after changes of pronunciation and spelling) from an early French name meaning River of Difficulties or Encumbrances.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

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