What Does “Chicago” Mean?
What does the word Chicago mean? That’s a question many locals and visitors from around the world are asking — but first you have to find the Windy City’s true namesake. Actually, historians still haven’t settled on an answer. You may know it as Windy City, Chi-Town, Second City, and City of the Big Shoulders — but what does Chicago mean when you look into its furthest origins? Before hitting the must-see attractions, learn more about Chicago’s meaning, history, and inhabitants.
What Does the Word “Chicago” Mean?
The most-accepted Chicago meaning is a word that comes from the Algonquin language: “shikaakwa,” meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.” According to early explorers, the lakes and streams around Chicago were full of wild onions, leeks, and ramps.
The first known reference to Chicago as we know it today comes from the explorer Robert de LaSalle. In his memoir of late September 1687, he writes: “We arrived at the said place called “Chicagou” which, according to what we were able to learn of it, has taken this name because of the quantity of garlic which grows in the forests in this region.”
The Miami and Illinois peoples applied the same word to “onion” and “skunk” because of the pungent smell of so many wild onions and garlic! That seems fitting for a city now renowned for its deep-dish pizza and bold flavors.
Naming Chicago: Meaning and History
As you dive into the origin of the word Chicago, it’s also important to look at the surrounding context and culture. In the mid-18th century, the Lake Michigan area was inhabited by the Native American Potawatomi tribe, and previously the Miami, Sauk, and Fox peoples. French-African explorer Jean Baptiste Point du Sable was Chicago’s first on-indigenous permanent settler, and is recognized as the founder of Chicago for his role in developing the Chicago River settlement.