organized as a U.S. territory 1836; admitted as a state 1848. Originally applied to the Wisconsin River; a native name of unknown origin. Early spellings include Mescousing and Wishkonsing. "Of all the states of the American union, none has a name that has been spelled in more ways or interpreted more variously, than Wisconsin," according to Virgil J. Vogel, "Indian Names on Wisconsin's Map" (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). He lists 15 spellings and says the word has been attributed to French, Menominee, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Sauk-Fox, and Winnebago.
It was Wisconsan on an 1823 map of Michigan Territory; the modern spelling dates to 1829, but Wiskonsin remained a stubborn variant until the territorial legislature fixed the spelling in 1845.
Modern scholarship seems to look to the writings of Marquette (1670s) and his use of Mascouten, etc., for a river and people name. Vogel describes the theory:
The Foxes' tribal name is Mesquackie, also spelled Meskwaki, Miscoquis, Miskwkeeyuk, Muskwaki, Musquakie, etc. The name means "red earth," deriving from the Fox tradition that they were created of red earth by the Great Spirit. The French called them Renards [Foxes] because they mistook a clan name for the tribal name. There is a remarkable resemblance between Marquette's Mescousing and the name Mesquakie. The terminal -akie in the tribal name means "earth," and the terminal -ing in Meskousing means "place." It is possible that the original term was Meskwa ("red, inanimate") aki ("earth") ing ("place"). Marquette could have shortened it.
updated on February 16, 2022