Have you ever wondered where the counties in South Dakota got their names? The roots of our county names showcase the history of the area and nation.

The state's largest county by population, Minnehaha, gets its name from what is said to be the Sioux word for waterfall. Seems about right, with the falls on the Big Sioux River being a centerpiece in the county seat of Sioux Falls.

The state's largest county by area, Meade County in the west with its county seat in Sturges, takes its name from a Civil War general. General George Meade commanded the Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Gettysburg defeating Robert E. Lee. The county was organized in 1889 and was named for Fort Meade a military post in the area.

READ MORE: The Secret of the South Dakota License Plate Number

The home of Rapid City, Pennington County, gets it's name from the fifth Governor of the Dakota Territory. John L. Pennington was governor at the time that the county was created in 1875.

Just south of Minnehaha County is Lincoln County. Established in 1867 it, like many counties in the country, gets its name from President Abraham Lincoln.

Brown County in northeast South Dakota is named for Alfred Brown, a Dakota Territory legislator in 1879 when the county was created.

Brookings County is named for Wilmot Brookings who was a Dakota Territory Supreme Court justice and the first provisional governor of the Dakota Territory. In fact, the county and city of Brookings and the city of Wilmot are named for him. Brookings also helped organize a county government for Minnehaha County in the 1850s and served as district attorney there. Brookings was an all-around South Dakota guy, serving in various government positions, running for congress, organizing a railroad, and owner and editor of the Sioux Falls Leader newspaper.

Several of the other counties in the state are named after various state and territory legislators from the time they were created.

Some of the most interesting name origins in the state include Bon Homme, Haakon, and Aurora counties.

Bon Homme County takes its name from a French phrase meaning "good man." More specifically, when Lewis and Clark were making their way up the Missouri River they noted a large island in the river that was called Bon Homme.

Haakon County, organized in 1915, is named for King Haakon VII, the first king of Norway who took the throne there in 1905.

Aurora County, home of Plankinton, SD, was named for Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn when it was created in 1879.


What Did South Dakota's License Plate Look Like the Year You Were Born?

The first number on an SD license plate is the county that the car is registered. For example, Pennington county where Rapid City is has a '2' starting its plates. In Sioux Falls you have either a '1' or a '44' depending on your relationship to 57th street.

When established in 1956 (and revised in 1987) the first nine counties were ordered by population. Starting with 10 they are in alphabetical order through Ziebach, with Oglala Lakota County (65) and Todd (67) rounding out the list.

Today the top 10 plate numbers and populations don't correlate anymore. 1 and 2 are still 1 and 2, but Lincoln (44) is now 3rd in population. Beadle is 4 but it's now 11th in population. See the list by population here.

On January 1, 2023, South Dakota started issuing a new license plate design for license plates.

So, let's take a look back at what South Dakota license plates looked like over the last 100 years.



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