Place Names

Subject: Social Studies—Geography

Grade: 4-8

Topic: Geography

Content: Students will learn about the Apsáalooke place names across the state of Montana.

Goals: Students will be able to name at least five Apsáalooke place names and their origins.


Social Studies Standard 3: Students apply geographic knowledge and skills (e.g., location, place, human/environment interactions, movement, and regions).

Social Studies Standard 4: Students demonstrate an understanding of the effects of time, continuity, and change on historical and future perspectives and relationships.

Social Studies Standard 6: Students demonstrate an understanding of the impact of human interaction and cultural diversity on societies.

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 3: The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will better understand how much the Apsáalooke Nation land base has shrunk. Students will also explain the origins and Apsáalooke names of at least five Apsáalooke locations in Montana or Wyoming.


Place Name Cards [PDF]

Lesson plan, Internet access to read about Apsáalooke place names on Little Big Horn College website at

Introduction: The names we give to valleys, streets, rivers, mountains, landmarks, and even regions and countries reflect characteristics of the land and the people who settled it. Therefore, studying place names can contribute significantly to the understanding of cultural and physical geography at any scale, from your neighborhood to the entire state of Montana. Much has been written about the value of teaching geography using place names, or toponyms.

Development: Students will gain additional knowledge of the Apsáalooke people and their experiences in what is now Montana and Wyoming.

Practice: Toponyms may be descriptive, such as Butte or Great Falls, or associative, Spring Creek—as in the spring fed the creek. Toponyms may refer to incidents—Battle Mountain; people—Julesburg; or commemorate a famous person, such as Billings or Hardin. Washington and Jackson are repeated thousands of times across the American landscape. Names can be commendatory to praise a place, such as Pleasant Grove. An extension of this type of name is the plethora of boosterism-type names given to places to attract settlement. Some names are manufactured—simply made up—while other names may be the result of a mistake. Mistakes include historic errors in identification or translation, such as Absorkee. After reading on the LBHC website students will choose at least five Apsáalooke place names to study and learn about. Students will then report to teachers describing their research.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Students will explain to teachers the name and history of at least five Apsáalooke place names.

Closure: In class discussion students will review the loss of Apsáalooke land base, how places get their names, and what they have learned about Apsáalooke culture as result of their study.