What’s the Difference Between Mackinac vs. Mackinaw?
If there's one thing certain about Michiganders, it's that we love to correct outsiders when they mispronounce our town names! Hearing visitors stumble over names like "Hamtramck" and "Ypsilanti" always brings us a good laugh.
However, I'll admit that despite having been born and raised in Michigan there's something I've always wondered but have been too afraid to ask: what's the difference between Mackinac and Mackinaw?
Thanks to a recent post going around social media I finally have some insight! To find the answer we have to go back to the early days of Michigan history.
According to the French-American Cultural Foundation Étienne Brûlé was the first European to visit Michigan in 1620. After landing in The Mitten, French and Canadian explorers began to map the shores of Michigan and its islands all while building trading posts, forts and villages essentially shaping the Michigan of today.
After the Seven Years’ War ended in the defeat of France their North American colonies were ceded to Britain, ending French involvement in Michigan.
Like many places throughout The Mitten, the word itself "Mackinac" comes from the Ojibwe language. Residing up near the Straits of Mackinac, the Anishinaabe peoples thought what we know as Mackinac Island looked a lot like a turtle so they called it "Mitchimakinak" which translates to "big turtle".
Mackinac vs. Mackinaw
When the French explorers first heard the natives say the word "Mitchimakinak" they wrote it down just as they heard it: Michilimackinac. However, as is the case with the French language despite it being written as "ac" it was pronounced "aw".
Conversely, when the British took control of Michigan they heard it pronounced as "aw" thus they wrote it as "Mackinaw." Makes sense, right?
So, How Do You Say It?
No matter how the word is spelled or who owned the territory-- the British or French-- the word is always pronounced the same: Mackinaw.
Present-day examples of "Mitchimakinak" include:
- Fort Michilimackinac
- Mackinac Island
- Straits of Mackinac
- Mackinac Bridge
- Fort Mackinac
- Mackinaw City