What does Sault Ste. Marie mean?

In 1668, Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary, named the area Sault de Sainte Marie. Because of the structure of the French language instead of it being Sainte Marie’s Sault (rapids), it is Sault of Sainte Marie. The modern-day name, Sault Ste. Marie, keeps the French feminine version of saint intact.

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 Ste. Marie, one of the most interesting 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 was 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 translations 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 cataracts. “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, we welcome you to do so on social media at our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.