Version 1

by Milo M. Quaife (?)

"The word Neenah is the Winnebago word for water. The story is told that Governor Doty was once traveling with a Winnebago guide, and pointing to Fox River asked its native name. The Indian, thinking the governor meant the word for water, replied 'Neenah.' Doty supposed it was the native word for that river, and always spoke of the Fox as Neenah River. Afterward, liking the name, he used it for the town. Other authorities apply the story to an engineer who was surveying for the government in early days, and who in his report gave the name Neenah to the Fox River. So far as we are aware, no tradition associates the name with an Indian Girl." 1

A Small Pond in Neenah
Jeff Lindsay

Version 2

by Francis R. Perry

"Water is Ni but the water or stream isn't nee-ra but Nee-nah ... The story is told that, when in the early days, a map maker wanted to put the lower Fox R. on the map he dipped his hand in it and asked a Hochunk Wunksheegra [Winnebago] 'What do you call this?' The wunksheek said, 'Ni Na,' meaning water, wondering at the stupidity of the Má-hee-xe-te-ra (Big Knife). So the city on the lower Fox R. is Neenah. The lower Fox to the Wunksheegra is Ne o x te [s]: Stream-where-big-the, since 'white man talks backward'."2

Commentary. "Nee-nah"nina in Hocąk.

"Hochunk Wunksheegra" — this would be Hocąk wąkšigera, meaning "the Hocąk man."

"Ni Na" — this is a rendering of the Hocąk syllabary (the babebibo) for nina (ni n), "the water."

"Má-hee-xe-te-ra"Mahį-xéte-ra, "knife-big-the."

"Ne o x te s" — this is clearly a rendering of the Hocąk syllabary for Nioxatera (ni o x te s), "the Great Waters."

Links: The Wazija.

Stories: mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Brawl in Omro, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hocągara Migrate South, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder, The Beginning of the Winnebago; set on the Fox River: Lakes of the Wazija Origin Myth, The Foolish Hunter, The First Fox and Sauk War, Winneconnee Origin Myth, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter.

Themes: ...


1 M. Milo Quaife [presumed author], "The Naming of Neenah," in "The Question Box," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 5, #2 (Dec., 1921) 201-211 [207-208]. This was in response to a query from Harry F. Williams of Neenah, who asked, "Can you give me any information as to the origin and history of the name Neenah? Am I right in assuming the word Neenah to be the name of an Indian girl, and if so is there any possibility of obtaining a likeness or picture of what represents her, for reproducing the same?"

2 In a letter from Francis Perry to V. J. Vogel (Sept. 20, 1987), quoted in Virgil J. Vogel, Indian Names on Wisconsin’s Map (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991) 270 nt 12.