The Native Americans who inhabited the continental U.S. for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived had a name for everything. That wasn’t good enough for those early settlers, who spread from coast to coast, Anglicizing native words here, translating them into Spanish or French there. Fast forward to today: We’ve got a country full of notable rivers, lakes, mountains, etc., with names that are terribly redundant. If they were around today, those early Native Americans would definitely get a chuckle out of some of these translations.
10. Ohio River
The Seneca Indians’ word ohi:yo’ means “good river.” Hence, the literal translation today for this body of water is the “Good River River.”
9. Lake Tahoe
Native Americans who long inhabited this area called this lake dá’aw, meaning, “lake.” Early settlers derived “Tahoe” from that word. No, they don’t look similar, but sound the Washo language word out, emphasizing the second syllable, and it makes sense.
8. Mount Katahdin
This steep peak is the highest mountain in Maine. The Penobscot Indians’ translation for Katahdin is “the greatest mountain.” So the official name translates as, “Mount The Greatest Mountain.” We’ll give locals credit, as many simply refer to it as “Katahdin.”
There are almost two-dozen towns bearing this name in the U.S., most notably Glendale, Ariz., the Phoenix suburb where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play. Gleann is the Gaelic term for “valley,” and it has been suggested that the Gaelic world “dail” is derived from a Norse word meaning “valley.”
6. Pawtucket Falls
There are a pair of Pawtucket Falls, one in Massachusetts, and the other in Rhode Island. Pawtucket is an Algonquian word meaning, “at the falls in the river.”
5. Rio Grande River
Rio is the Spanish word for “river,” giving us the literal translation, “River Big River.”
4. Lake Michigan
The word “Michigan” is derived from the Ojibwa meshi-gami, meaning “big lake.” By the way, Michigan is one of 26 U.S. states derived from Native American terms.
3. Street Road
Somehow, two different highways in Pennsylvania ended up with this odd name, Pa. Route 132 in Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia and Pa. Route 926 in Chester County.
2. La Brea Tar Pits
The Spanish named this unique spot in California. La brea means, “the tar.” So if you say, “Let’s visit the La Brea Tar Pits, you’re saying, “the the tar tar pits.”
1. Mississippi River
Mississippi means “big river” in Ojibwa, so we have the “Big River River.” By the way, schoolchildren today would probably not have a much easier time spelling the Ojibwa word: mshi-ziibi.
Editor’s note: There are various translations and spellings of many of the above Native American words. For reference purposes, we used the fascinating site etymonline.com, a great source for the etymology of words.