Minnesota’s Zumbro River Has An Embarrassing Past
The mighty Zumbro River winds its way through downtown Rochester and across much of southeast Minnesota. But the story of how it got its name is kind of embarrassing.
I'm fascinated by local history, so I've always been curious about the name 'Zumbro,' and what its meaning originally was. And as it turns out, the Zumbro River's name dates back to well before Rochester appeared on the map.
According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the river we know as the Zumbro today wasn't initially known by that now-familiar name. But like many things in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, French explorers and trappers are responsible for the Zumbro's name.
The story says the Zumbro was originally called "'Riviere des Embarrass,' from the word, 'embarrasser,' which means obstruction or difficulty." The story noted that it came to be called that because back then, (and even today, in some places) the Zumbro was filled with shallows and snags that could quickly capsize a trader's canoe. And back then, like now, that would be pretty embarrassing.
Of course, over the years, the French pronunciation for 'des Embarrass,' (which would be something like "deh-ZUM-BEHRRR-OSS," the story said) was rounded off and shortened until it sounded much more like the current title of Zumbro.
The story doesn't say when it officially became known as the Zumbro River, but that's at least the backstory and origin of how our familiar Minnesota river acquired its unique name-- even if it was kind of embarrassing.