How do you say ‘Mackinac’ Island?

If you visit Mackinac Island, there’s a good chance you might overhear a conversation that includes something like, “Is it Mack-i-naw or Mack-i-nack?”

Consider the different spelling in nearby Mackinaw City and it’s no wonder people get confused.

The short answer to this common question is that it’s pronounced MACK-in-awe.

But there is a longer answer woven into the history of Mackinac Island from Native American, British and French influences.

Both Mackinac Island’s fascinating geology and backstory of how you pronounce its name give clues to its intriguing history.

NATIVE AMERICAN ORIGINS AND MACKINAC ISLAND

Mackinac Island is a shortened version of the Native American name, Michilimackinac. The Anishinaabek word means place of the great turtle.

Why great turtle? They thought that Mackinac Island, with its limestone bluffs, looked like a giant turtle rising out of the water.

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FRENCH INFLUENCE ON MACKINAC ISLAND

In 1715, the French built Fort Michilimackinac in current day Mackinaw City, on the mainland. They translated the local Anishinaabek name for the area into something that better fit their language. This spelling included their silent “c” that’s pronounced “aw.” Fort Michilimackinac was a thriving community at the center of the Great Lakes fur trade industry.

Mackinac Island has been home to Fort Mackinac since 1780 when the British moved the historic fort over from the mainland.

BRITISH INFLUENCE ON MACKINAC ISLAND

The British took control of Fort Michilimackinac in 1761 and 20 years later moved the fort over the ice from the mainland to its current location on Mackinac Island. Over time, Michilimackinac got shortened to Mackinac. The island since has been known as Mackinac Island and the fort as Fort Mackinac.

However, when present-day Mackinaw City was founded in the 1850s, the British changed the spelling of the city to reflect the way the name is pronounced, with a “w” sound at the end.

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MACKINAC NAMES

You can see why it’s easy to get confused. There is Mackinac Island, the Mackinac Bridge, the Straits of Mackinac, Mackinac County, Mackinaw City and the United States Coast Guard Cutter, Mackinaw.

But whether it’s spelled Mackinac or Mackinaw it’s pronounced the same way, with an “aw” at the end.

The bluffs of Mackinac Island rise from the water like a turtle shell, earning a name that means place of the great turtle.

TURTLES ON MACKINAC ISLAND

As mentioned above, turtles have a big influence on Mackinac Island. The next time you visit, pay attention to the gifts, art, photos, paintings, names of businesses, and more that pay homage to the original Anishinaabek name, place of the great turtle.

For example, you could visit Great Turtle Park, where yes, there are turtle themed benches and a large ceramic turtle by the playground. There’s also Great Turtle Brewery & Distillery, Great Turtle Kayak Tours and Great Turtle Toys. There’s even a Great Turtle Drop on New Year’s Eve!

Now you know how to pronounce Mackinac, you know the history of how it came to be and you know why turtles play an important role on Mackinac Island. The next time you visit take a moment to reflect on the history of Mackinac Island and feel how it continues with us today.

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