The word Mississippi itself comes from Messipi, the French rendering of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for the river, Misi-ziibi (Great River). See below in "History" section for additional information.
In addition to historical traditions shown by names, there are at least two other measures of a river's identity, one being the largest branch (by water volume), and the other being the longest branch. Using the largest-branch criterion, the Ohio would be the main branch of the Lower Mississippi, not the Middle and Upper Mississippi. Using the longest-branch criterion, the Middle Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson-Beaverhead-Red Rock-Hellroaring Creek River would be the main branch. In either of these cases, despite its name, the Upper Mississippi from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to St. Louis, would not be part of the more significant branch flowing between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico.
While the Missouri River, flowing from the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers to the Mississippi, is the longest continuously named river in the United States, the serially named river known sequentially as Hellroaring Creek, Red Rock, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Missouri, Middle Mississippi, and Lower Mississippi, as one continuous waterway, is the longest river in North America and the third or fourth longest river in the world. Its length of at least 3,745 mi (6,027 km) is exceeded only by the Nile, the Amazon, and perhaps the Yangtze River among the longest rivers in the world. The source of this waterway is at Brower's Spring, 8,800 feet (2,700 m) above sea level in southwestern Montana, along the Continental Divide outside Yellowstone National Park.
The unifying name "Great American River" has been suggested for this multiple named waterway. However, the names "Mississippi River" for the water course from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, "Missouri River" for its major western portion, and "Ohio River" for its major eastern portion are so well established that neither reassignment of names nor creation of novel names can be seriously considered as replacements for current usage. Furthermore, the north-south course of the waterway commonly known as the Mississippi River is widely considered a convenient if approximate dividing line between the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern United States and the Western U.S., as exemplified by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the phrase "Trans-Mississippi", used for example in the name of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska.
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