Wauwatosa = Firefly
What does Wauwatosa mean?Wauwatosa is
(or Potawatomi) indian for firefly. It actually means "flash flash fire
that flies". Also the Pottawatomie Chief name was Wau-wau-tae-sie 200 years
The Town of Wau-wau-too-sa was created by act of the Wisconsin
Territorial Legislature on April 30, 1840. Some where along the way, the name
was changed to the present day Wauwatosa. Information from Wauwatosa Historical
Society book available from the Wauwatosa Library or Wauwatosa Historical
On a summer's night, you will see Wauwatosa filled with
fireflies flashing flashing.
Several business in Wauwatosa have
"firefly" in ther title and the meeting room at the Wauwatosa City Hall Library
is called the
From Book "Odd or Peculiar" by Rev. Neil Swanson,
1996Wauwatosa is another example of an Indian word which has been
pronounced and spelled in a variety of ways. As an illustration, the Indian
word "wauwautawsa" refers to a lost warrior, and other pronunciations and
spellings of "wauwatosa" produce meanings such as: "a great walker", "what he
works for", "what he earns", "dim memory", or "he shines as he walks"!
Take note of this introduction to Wauwatosa in "The Romance of
Wisconsin Place Names" by Robert E. Gard and L.G. Sorden: "Before the white man
came, Wauwatosa was a forest primeval of gigantic trees on a cluster of hills
rising abruptly from the meandering Menomonee River. Wild game abounded, and
hovering over the misty rice swamps in the early evenings were swarms of
fireflies. ' Wau-wau-tae-sie.' said the Indians, when they beheld these
mysterious blinking insects."
From what I know, this gets it right. Our
family lived in Wauwatosa for 14 years, and I never heard any explanation of
its name but "the place of the fireflies". Apparently, when the town was
organized in 1841, someone familiar with local Indian history suggested it be
named for an historical chief named Wauwautosa. I would have voted for that,
since the name was so similar to the Indian name for the area.
like to add that in Minnesota there is an island named Wawatasso in Lake
Minnetonka. It was called that because of its large population of fireflies,
and it was used for many years as a camping site for older Boy Scouts.
Finally, please hearken to some relevant words from Henry W. Longfellow's
(one of Wauwatosa two middle schools is namesd after him) well-known poem about
Saw the fire-fly, Wah-way-taysee,
the dusk of evening,
With the twinkle of its candle,
And he sang the
song of children:
"Wah-way-taysee, little fire-fly,
Light me with your little candle."
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