Michigan Counties – What’s In a Name?

Once, while on a camping trip, I was sitting in my car. My husband wasn’t quite done with getting his beauty sleep, and while I was doing my best to not wake him up, I started writing down names of as many Michigan counties as I could – from memory –  in the back of our well-worn paper gazetteer:


Unsure if I wrote out all of these in one sitting or not…

A majority of Michigan’s county names are a reflection of what was going on January 26, 1837 when Michigan was admitted to the union. Let’s see, Andrew Jackson was president, Oliver Twist began its publication as a serial, Martin Van Buren would become the eighth president of the U.S., Procter and Gamble was founded and Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. You really only need to pay attention to that first thing for purposes of this blog!


A good number of Michigan’s county names also reflect its history involving Native Americans, who lived, hunted and fished here for centuries.

Now let’s get into the list, shall we? Please note that some of the photos I’m using with this blog are “just for fun” and may not necessarily represent people who have any historical connection to Michigan!

Michigan Counties Named For People

Alger County (County Seat Munising) –

  • Russell Alexander Alger lumber baron, Michigan Governor, US Senator, and appointed as US Secretary of War during the William McKinley Presidential administration

Baraga County  (County Seat L’Anse) –


  • Frederic Baraga, Catholic missionary

Barry County (County Seat Hastings) –

  • William Taylor Barry, Postmaster General in Andrew Jackson’s cabinet

Berrien County (County Seat St. Joseph) –

  • John M. Berrien, Attorney General in Andrew Jackson’s cabinet

Branch County (County Seat Coldwater) –

  • John Branch, Secretary of the Navy, Andrew Jackson’s cabinet

Calhoun County (County Seat Marshall) –


Fun alternative absolutely untrue fact, John C. Calhoun not only served as vice president under Andrew Jackson, but he was also his “stunt double.” Whenever Andrew Jackson had meetings he didn’t want to attend, John C. Calhoun would pose as the president. He was also a great wing man…
  • John C. Calhoun, Vice President under Andrew Jackson

Cass County (County Seat Cassopolis) –


The Cass River in Frankenmuth is one of many, many things in Michigan named for Lewis Cass.
  • Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, Andrew Jackson’s cabinet

Charlevoix County (County Seat Charlevoix) –


Fisherman’s Island State Park, Charlevoix, MI
  • Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, Jesuit traveler and historian

Clinton County (County Seat St. John’s) –


Am I the only one who thinks it’s hilarious that we had a guy named George Clinton, who served as vice president under Jefferson and Madison? Sadly, Clinton County is not named for George Clinton (the singer OR the former vice president), but the guy named below…
  • DeWitt Clinton, New York governor

Crawford County (County Seat Grayling) –

  • William Crawford, American Revolutionary War colonel

Dickinson County (County Seat Iron Mountain) –


Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. Dickinson County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is NOT named for him, though if I lived there, I would petition for a crowd funding for a Bruce Dickinson statue (JK)!
  • Donald M. Dickinson, Postmaster General, Grover Cleveland administration

Eaton County (County Seat Charlotte) –

  • John Eaton, Secretary of War, Jackson administration

Emmet County (County Seat Petoskey) –


Robert Emmet, Irish nationalist

Gladwin County (County Seat Gladwin) –

  • Major Henry Gladwin, British commander of the fort at Detroit during the siege by Chief Pontiac in 1763-64

Gratiot County (County Seat Ithaca) –

  • Captain Charles Gratiot (1788-1855), built Fort Gratiot at the present site of Port Huron

Houghton County (County Seat Houghton) –


Douglass Houghton died when he was just 35 by drowning in Lake Superior. You need not worry about him turning into a zombie, however – since Lake Superior “never gives up her dead” (according to Gordon Lightfoot)
  • Dr. Douglass Houghton (1809-1845), first state geologist of Michigan, physician and surgeon, mayor of Detroit

Ingham County (County Seat Mason) –

  • Samuel D. Ingham, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the Jackson Administration

Isabella County (County Seat Mount Pleasant) –

  • Queen Isabella of Spain

Jackson County (County Seat Jackson) –


  • Andrew Jackson, seventh U.S. president – and president when Michigan was admitted to the union

Kent County (County Seat Grand Rapids) –

  • New York jurist James Kent, who represented the Michigan Territory in its dispute with Ohio over the Toledo Strip

Livingston County (County Seat Howell) –

  • Edward Livingston (1764-1836): second Secretary of State in the Andrew Jackson administration

Luce County (County Seat Newberry) –

  • Michigan Governor Cyrus G. Luce

Macomb County (County Seat Mount Clemens) –

  • U.S. General Alexander Macomb, a notable officer of the War of 1812

Marquette County (County Seat Marquette) –


Jacques Marquette, probably telling these Native Americans to “Be Christian or else”
  • Jacques Marquette, French missionary

Mason County (County Seat Ludington) –

  • Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason

Mecosta County (County Seat Big Rapids) –

  • Mecosta, a Native American leader

Missaukee County (County Seat Lake City) –

  • Missaukee, an Ottawa leader who signed land-grant treaties in 1831 and 1833

Monroe County (County Seat Monroe) –


Monroe County is NOT named for actress Marilyn Monroe! I was getting tired of sharing all of those photos of old white dudes (LOL)!
  • James Monroe, fifth U.S. president

Montcalm County (County Seat Stanton) –

  • Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, a French military commander in Quebec

Newaygo County (County Seat White Cloud) –

  • Chippewa leader who signed the Saginaw Treaty of 1819

Osceola County (County Seat Reed City) –

  • Osceola, Seminole chief

St. Clair County (County Seat Port Huron) –

  • Arthur St. Clair, first governor of the Northwest Territory, or Saint Clair on whose feast day Lake St. Clair was discovered

Sanilac County – (County Seat Sandusky) –

  • Sandusky, a Wyandotte chief

Schoolcraft County (County Seat Manistique) –

  • Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, American geographer and Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Michigan

Van Buren County (County Seat Paw Paw) –

Portrait of President Van Buren

  • Martin Van Buren, Secretary of State in the Jackson Administration, later Vice President and eighth President of the United States

Wayne County (County Seat Detroit) –

  • “Mad” Anthony Wayne, United States Army general and statesman

“Cabinet” Counties: 

Counties named for members of Andrew Jackson’s administration
  • Barry
  • Berrien
  • Branch
  • Calhoun
  • Cass
  • Eaton
  • Ingham
  • Jackson
  • Livingston
  • Van Buren

Michigan counties named for Native American tribes:

  • Chippewa
  • Huron
  • Menominee
  • Ottawa

Michigan counties with “pseudo Native American names:”


  • Alcona
  • Allegan
  • Alpena
  • Arenac
  • Iosco
  • Kalkaska
  • Lenawee
  • Oscoda
  • Tuscola

Michigan counties named for counties in Ireland –

  • Antrim
  • Clare
  • Roscommon
  • Wexford

Michigan counties named for places:

  • Bay (Saginaw Bay), Benzie (French name of Betsie River)
  • Cheboygan (Cheboygan River)
  • Genesee (Genesee, N.Y.)
  • Ionia (province in ancient Greece)
  • Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo River)
  • Lake (Lake Michigan),
  • Manistee (Manistee River)
  • Midland (geographic center of Michigan)
  • Muskegon (Muskegon River)
  • Oceana (Lake Michigan, or “freshwater ocean)
  • Ontonagon (Ontonagon River)
  • Otsego (Otsego County N.Y.)
  • Saginaw (Saginaw River, Saginaw Bay)
  • St. Joseph (St. Joseph River)
  • Shiawassee (Shiawassee River)
  • Washtenaw (Native American name for Grand River)




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