A small Breezy Point water body known as Rat Lake might soon be officially named the eight-syllable Little Ossawinnamakee, pending federal approval of the petition forwarded by nearby residents.
The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, April 27, lent its unanimous support to the name change after a public hearing, during which lead petitioner and Rat Lake property owner Jared Diem made the case for granting the new name in honor of its larger, connected counterpart.
“Not only does the word ‘rat’ convey a negative association to our lake and the surrounding area, but there’s also another lake named Rat in Crow Wing County in Jenkins, and there’s over 15 Rats, I believe, in the state of Minnesota,” Diem said. “Rat Lake is fed by Lake Ossawinnamakee and is long and narrow much like Ossie, so Little Ossawinnamakee would be a great fit akin to Little Pelican and Big Pelican Lake.”
Matt and Shawna Smith, who said they own 32 acres on the south side of Rat Lake, also supported the new name.
“We moved here in 2017 and absolutely love the area and have fantastic neighbors but have never been fond of the name of Rat Lake,” a support letter stated. “It does not sound appealing nor does it represent the lake itself with all of the wild life of swans, geese, eagles and otters that nest and live around it.”
Diem said the majority of lakeshore owners approved of the name change and some took no position. The city of Breezy Point also took no position on the change. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported Little Ossawinnamakee Lake would be a unique name for a lake in Minnesota as far as the state agency knew.
With unanimous approval of a resolution showing support of the Crow Wing County Board, the next step in the process is for documentation to be sent to DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen for state-level approval. At that point, the DNR would pass along the request to United States Board on Geographic Names, a division of the U.S. Geological Survey, for final approval.
A recent pitch to bestow the name Crow Wing Creek on a previously unnamed watercourse failed to garner support from commissioners after some locals disapproved of the suggestion.
Mud, Long and Diarrhea
According to the federal Geographic Names Information System database, there are 20 lakes in the state of Minnesota with “Rat” in the name. This includes Rat House Lake and Rat Lake in Aitkin County, three Rat Lakes in Cass County, Rat Lake in Jenkins in Crow Wing County and a Rat Lake in Todd County.
The Rat Lake in Breezy Point is not among those listed at the federal level. Pete Boulay, a DNR climatologist who oversees the state-level process for changing the names of lakes, rivers and other geographical features, said it might be considered unnamed at the federal level but according to the DNR, it’s officially named Rat Lake in the state.
Boulay said it’s not unusual for Minnesotans to seek changes to what some consider undesirable names of geographic features.
“There’s always discussion on names, but not always they feel strong enough where they want to go through the whole process to do it,” Boulay said during a phone interview Tuesday. “ … The pretty hard thing is coming up with a name that everybody agrees on. That’s the biggest challenge. A lot of people could say, ‘I don’t really like that name,’ but then you’ve got to come up with a new name that people like.”
It seems enough people united behind changing one of the most famously unappealing feature names in state history: Cook County’s Diarrhea River, which became Kadunce River in 1976.
“Actually, it meant something. And what do you think it meant for the people going up there? Don’t drink the water,” Boulay said.
In the last 30 years, 112 successful name changes are recorded by the DNR. Many features were unnamed to begin with, while others sported ubiquitous names such as Mud Lake or Long Lake — the two most common lake names in the state, with 201 Mud Lakes and 113 Long Lakes. No other Rat Lakes were approved for a name change since 1991.
One of those Mud Lakes acquiring a new name was in Crow Wing County, approved by the federal government in 2015 to be called Lake Cuyuna. Other Mud Lakes became Lake Monongalia, Hunters Lake, Boo Lake, Lake Camelot, Erin Lake, Mallard Lake, Watercress Lake and Mallard Pass Lake. Two Mud Lakes became known as Golden Pond: one in St. Louis County in 1998 and another in Douglas County in 2007.
Five Long Lakes have been rechristened since 1991, including two in Crow Wing County, part of a total of seven lakes renamed in the county in 2003. Deerwood Township in particular went on a renaming spree, home to five of the seven changes. One Long Lake in the township became known as Placid Lake, while the other is now Peterson Lake after Nils Victor Peterson, a longtime resident who lived 1840-1925, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Bergland Lake became Berglund Lake to more appropriately reflect its namesake, longtime area resident Frank V. Berglund, 1866-1935. Nearby Goose Lake is now Arbor Lake, presumably because another closely situated lake was also named Goose. And another neighboring lake changed from Whang to Vang after resident Gunerius Vang, 1865-1942.
The other two Crow Wing County lakes renamed in 2003 were previously unnamed, becoming Mine Lake in Crow Wing Township and Kutil Lake in Roosevelt Township, the latter of which took the names of residents Joseph Kutil, 1903-93, and Bea Kutil, 1905-62.
Another motivating factor for name changes is a move away from those with racially charged undertones. The most well-known recent example of this was in 2018, when the DNR approved renaming Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the Dakota name for White Earth Lake. The name Calhoun referred to John C. Calhoun, who supported both slavery and the removal of Native Americans from their homelands.
Twenty of the features renamed previously included the word “Squaw,” including Squaw Lakes now known as Little Emily Lake in Crow Wing and Little Woman Lake in Cass. Also renamed in Cass County were two Squaw Points — one on Gull Lake, becoming Gull Point, and the other on Leech Lake, becoming Oak Point — and Squaw Pond, which became Scout Camp Pond.
When asked what his favorite name change is so far, Boulay pointed to Halfbreed Lake in Washington County, which in 2017 became Lake Keewahtin — not because he’s partial to one name or another, he noted, but because it was a good example of residents going through the process and reaching a compromise after multiple hearings.
“You didn’t know what was going to happen,” Boulay said. “ … It’s a good success story where not everybody agreed on the change, but eventually they came to a name they could all agree on. So it was a real good ending.”
Not everyone wants names of places to change, even if they could be interpreted as off-putting, Boulay said.
“There’s a pretty good-sized lake called Dead Lake,” he said, referring to the second-largest lake in Otter Tail County. “They even have T-shirts and sweatshirts with ‘Dead Lake,’ you know. So there’s some that aren’t great, but you know what? People might not like the names, but some people embrace the weird names, too.”
Local features with name changes
The following is a list of geographical features with state- and federally approved name changes since 1991.
Two unnamed creeks became Musselshell Creek and Island Lake Creek in 2012.
Oak Point, previously Squaw Point on Leech Lake, changed in 1995.
Little Woman Lake, previously Squaw Lake, changed in 1996.
Gull Point, previously Squaw Point on Gull Lake, changed in 1996.
Scout Camp Pond, previously Squaw Pond, changed in 1996.
Sanborn Lake, previously Sanburn Lake, changed in 2000.
Man Lake, previously Mann Lake, changed in 2006.
Poquet Lake, previously Paquet Lake, changed in 2020.
Crow Wing County
Little Emily Lake, previously Squaw Lake, changed in 1996.
Vang Lake, previously Whang Lake, changed in 2003.
Kutil Lake, previously unnamed, changed in 2003.
Mine Lake, previously unnamed, changed in 2003.
Peterson Lake, previously Long Lake, changed in 2003.
Placid Lake, previously Long Lake, changed in 2003.
Arbor Lake, previously Goose Lake, changed in 2003.
Berglund Lake, previously Bergland Lake, changed in 2003.
Lake Cuyuna, previously Mud Lake, changed in 2014.
Mischke Creek, previously Arramba Creek, changed in 1999.
Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.