Welcome to the land of 10,000 lakes. Well, actually, there are more than that, but we must've run out of collective fingers and toes and said, heck, 10,000 is good enough. It could be that we couldn't handle a number any larger.
Given more than 10,000 lakes to name, it is inevitable that some share the same name. A certain lack of creativity traces to the stoic Scandinavian pioneers. There are 23 Anderson Lakes and 29 Johnson Lakes with about a dozen each of Hanson, Larson, Swanson, and other popular "sons."
You can't blame the numeric thing on any given culture. Lake names pop up such as Lake One, Second Lake, Lake Fourteen, Eighth Crow Wing Lake, Twelve Mile Lake, Section 29 Lake, Fourth Lake, Five Mile Lake, and so on. If you add all the numbers in numeric lake names, you will equal the approximate odds that you will ever win the lottery.
Some lakes are named for people, so naturally I had to check and see if there was a Schultz Lake named for some famous relative. You will find two Schultz Lakes near Litchfield, one in Harvey Township and the other just west in Harrison Township. I have no explanationfor the popularity of Schultz Lakes in that area.
Then there is the Lake Family. This group is so large you will never keep them straight. Beth, Betsy, and Bertram are just a few of the Lakes. There's also Sam, Emily, Vern, Martha, Louise, Peter, Victoria, Katie, Carlos, Anna, Pearl, Emma, and many, many more. Look them up, you'll find there's a John, Paul, George, and Ringo Lake. (Oddly, no one thought to name a lake Veronica.)
Many lakes are named for some feature. Whale's Tail Lake looks like a cartoonish whale with a big and obvious tail. If it is named Round Lake, it is generally round and there are 49 of them to choose from. There are 112 Long Lakes and they all tend to be, well, long. We Minnesotans must think big, because there are 10 Big Lakes but only 8 Little Lakes. By the way, most of the lakes named Big aren't really all that big, while lakes named Little most
In an equal world, there would be a Big to complement every Little. For instance, a pair of lakes near Talmoon are named Big Too Much and Little Too Much Lakes. Sunrise Lake has an equal in Sunset Lake. However, there is no Big Inky Lake to match Little Inky Lake. Wet Lake would seem a redundant name, and yes, there is a Dry Lake. Mostly, where you find an upper, there is also a lower. Upper Mission Lake, for instance, is just north of Lower Mission Lake. Upper Twin Lake is often connected to Lower Twin Lake.
If you know Unknown Lake is in St. Louis County just south of the intersection of US 53 and St. Louis County 8 would you be required to change its name?
It's probably a good thing that many lake names don't really have anything to do with what the lakes are actually like. Devil's Lake, for instance, probably isn't all that bad. Lightning Lake strikes me as colorful, but harmless. Haunted Lake and Graveyard Lake probably aren't that scary. Let's hope Ice Cracking Lake doesn't live up to that name too often. It would be nice to think that Disappointment Lake is not disappointing and Inspiration Lake is truly inspirational.
It doesn't rain constantly over Rainy Lake. For generations, natives referred to the area by the always-present mist where the entire watershed tumbled 35 feet down a series of rapids. French fur traderstranslated the native phrase to Lac la Pluie or Lake of the Rains, which was naturally anglicized into Rainy Lake andRainy River.
Fish are involved in a lot of lake names. Fish Lake, Carp Lake, Trout Lake, and the like can be found all over the state, there's even a Minnow Lake. Then there are the lakes that needed additional clarification, such as Big Fish Lake. Are the fish in Big Fish Lake all large, or is it the larger of two Fish Lakes? It's hard to know if Whopper Lake was named for a fish or the resulting fish story, and I kind of picture Yabut Lake earning it's name when one angler said, "YEAH, BUT YOU SHOULD'VE BEEN HERE YESTERDAY." Anglers, I would guess, don't even try Stingy Lake.
Lake namers were pretty much on target using the name Clear. There are 34 Clear Lakes and they are pretty much clear. The flip side of that coin is that there are 171 Mud Lakes and they are muddy.
Native languages are another source of lake names. Some popular examples might be Lake Kabetogama, Winnibigoshish, or Minnewaska. In many cases, the native names are descriptive. Lake Bemidji may be named for Chief Bemidji, but he may also be named for the lake. The likely source of the name is a native phrase meaning lake crossed by flowing waters. The Mississippi River does flow through the lake.
Lake Itasca may have a native sounding name, but is actually parts of two Latin words. Veritas Caput means true head, and Lake Itasca is where the true headwaters of the Mississippi lie. Oddly, Lake Itasca is not in Itasca County.
With all these lakes around, some are likely to get misplaced. That's probably why there are 23 Lost Lakes in Minnesota. Hidden Lake is not lost, just secret, but Long Lost Lake has probably been missing for some time. Please don't fall into the trap of confusing Long Lost Lake with Lost Long Lake. With all those lost lakes around, someone just had to stumble on one somewhere. Found Lake is found just northwest of Snowbank Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Stumble Creek is found near Schroeder on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Some lake must've provided a meal or two as names were being tossed around. Caribou, Deer, Elk, Black Duck, and Goose sound like they might've made a pioneer meal or two. Some that might appear on a menu are Chicken, Pickle, Ham, or Pancake. An optimist looking at a crayfish might have named Lobster Lake. Eagle and Loon Lakes would have to be off the menu being the National and State birds respectively.
Not into eating wild game? How about Strawberry, Blueberry, Rice, Onion, Parsnip, Cucumber, Raspberry, or Peanut Lake.
Guys with axes named quite a few lakes as they lumbered across the region. That's probably why you can find Cedar, Aspen, Pine, Cottonwood, Ash, Maple, Tamarack, Popple, Black Oak, and White Pine among the lake names.
Pavelgrit Lake sounds like pig latin for a gravel pit that filled with water. Even more Lake must have an interesting history. I picture Sven and Ole fighting through mosquito infested woodlands when one asks; "What's over that there ridge, then?" and the other says "Even more lake." And so, another lake name is created.
Cutfoot Sioux is an intriguing name for a lake. Legend has it that in 1748 there was a native war over large parts of northern Minnesota. The Sioux came from the west to try and drive the Ojibwe or Chippewa from the abundant lake lands. There were several bloody battles near lakes, and they often became called Battle Lake, but I digress. Following a battle, the Ojibwe discovered a lone Sioux barely clinging to life. He had been trying to escape west and they found him at the shores of a lake. His foot was nearly severed and he could go no further. They called the lake Cutfoot Sioux.
Some lake names have an individual and interesting history. Take Jack the Horse Lake in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest. Back in the late 1800's loggers counted on iced skid roads to pull enormous loads of prime timber out of the forest. A good wet sticky snowfall could grind the sledge to a halt. One day a horse expired pulling a huge load out of the woods as a blizzard was blowing in. Wanting to beat the snowstorm, the biggest man in the crew stepped into the empty harness and helped pull the sledge to the landing. That man became known as "Jack the Horse" and the name of the lake followed.
Not far from Jack the Horse Lake you will find Dead Horse Lake. Do you suppose there is a connection?
by Pete Schultz - I'm a native of International Falls and travel all of northern Minnesota in relation to my job. I graduated from Falls High in 1972 and St. Cloud State University in 1976 and started a career in TV News. I learned I didn't much care for really big cities, and the way to advance in the TV news business is to get a job in a bigger market. I returned home and got into working with tourists and now head up the International Falls, Rainy Lake, and Ranier Convention and Visitors Bureau. I did the research for this article after noticing how often lakes... sometimes in close proximity... have the same name.