Michael McCafferty, a visiting lecturer at Indiana University who has spent decades researching Algonquian languages, agrees with the commonly held notion that the "Moines" in Des Moines is a French derivation of Moingoana, an Indian tribe that once lived along the banks of the Des Moines River.I learned this from a recent podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish (whose website seems to have no such thing as a search box...)
But he insists that rather than denoting the tribe's true identity, the name was a ribald joke offered up to French explorers Marquette and Jolliet in 1673 as a bit of razzing between competing Indian communities...
McCafferty based his conclusion on the work of another linguist, David Costa, who wrote an article on the etymology of a number of Miami-Illinois tribal names, Moingoana among them. Moingoana, McCafferty cites Costa, originates from the word "mooyiinkweena" -which translates, politely, to "the excrement-faces."
29 July 2014
The unusual etymology of Des Moines, Iowa
The literal translation may be "shit-faced," as explained in the Des Moines Register: