The state name Minnesota comes from the name of the Minnesota River, which in turn is from the Dakota name for the river, minisota, meaning something along the lines of white water.1
The mini- portion of the name indisputably means water, but the sense of the -sota portion is somewhat uncertain. It could mean white or cloudy white, or it could mean reflecting a cloudy sky. In any case, the name comes from the reflected color of the water, not from rapids as is sometimes thought.2
1Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, edited by Philip Babcock Gove (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1993), 1439;
2Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names, edited by Kelsie B. Harder (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976), 345.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton