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Sault Ste Marie's Blog

The Meaning of Sault Sainte Marie

Posted on November 8th, 2017

What makes up a name? Many people rarely stop to think about the origins of names, whether they be the name of a street, a company, an animal, or a city. Sault Sainte Marie, one of the most unique names you’ll find in Michigan, has probably left you stumped a time or two. We are here to help you solve this mystery.


The first European settlers in the Sault Ste. Marie area were of French descent, which is crucial to know in our journey to find the meaning behind this name. In 1668, Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary, officially named this place Sault Ste. Marie. At the time of christening, the name was Sault de Sainte Marie. This is because of the structure of the French language. Instead of it being Sainte Marie’s Sault, it is Sault of Sainte Marie.


Now, we are sure you are still wondering what these words actually mean. We have that answer for you. As you may have guessed, Father Marquette was honoring a key figure in his religion with this naming. Sainte Marie is a nod to Mary, mother of Jesus. It is “Sainte” instead of “Saint” because of the gender of Mary.  That leaves us with the word “sault.” The translation of this word may not come as a surprise to you, given the prominent geographical feature of this area when it was being settled. “Sault” translates to rapids or cataract. “Saut,” an older French version of the word, meant jump. Knowing this, we now can grasp the meaning of Sault Sainte Marie: the rapids of Saint Mary.

The St. Marys Rapids. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If you need help pronouncing the name “Sault Ste. Marie,” we have a blog for that. If you would like to contact us with questions or comments, please feel free to do so on social media at our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.