Wauwatosa = Firefly

What does Wauwatosa mean?

Firefly graphicWauwatosa is Pottawatomie (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 ago.

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 Society.

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 "Firefly Room".

From Book "Odd or Peculiar" by Rev. Neil Swanson, 1996

Wauwatosa 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.

I would 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 Hiawatha.

Saw the fire-fly, Wah-way-taysee,
Flitting through the dusk of evening,
With the twinkle of its candle,
And he sang the song of children:
"Wah-way-taysee, little fire-fly,
Little, dancing, white-fire creature,
Light me with your little candle."

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