Pend Oreille, Pend d’Oreille and Ponderay—visitors and even locals alike may be confused by the different spellings of our local waterways and town, but the names all go back to the same original French name, Pend d’Oreille, which means “earloop” or “hangs from the ear.”
The name comes from the shell and bone earrings early travelers to the area saw dangling from members of the Kalispel Tribe’s ears.
Originally named Pend d’Oreille, the U.S. Board on Geographic names defined the U.S. spelling as Pend Oreille, and so was born the version we use in the states to this day. When the river crosses the Canadian border, it becomes the Pend d’Oreille River. So why was our town north of Sandpoint dubbed Ponderay? It’s simply the English phonetic spelling of the French word for “earloop.” Look at an aerial view of the lake, and you’ll see it’s shaped much like a human ear.