[Most of this post’s ideas are from Wikipedia’s stats about the largest lakes in the world. I was unaware of many of these comparisons until the last decade so I bring them here to you as many more people might be unaware.]
When European people got to Lake Superior, they gave it its obnoxious name because they “knew” it was the largest lake in the world. These Europeans and proto Americans and proto Canadians breathed a collective sigh of relief when Lake Victoria in Africa was found to be slightly smaller than Lake Superior.
But the problem with obnoxious names is that they are usually found out to be wrong, largely because of some overzealous person or group with an attachment to one possibility. Indeed, the only reason the Caspian Sea was ever called a sea was because it is full of salt water. In truth it is one giant salt lake bigger in area than all of the great lakes combined. Sea is definitely a misnomer here as it is totally inland. So henceforth it shall be known as the Caspian Lake. So Superior is only the second largest lake in the world. Or is it?
Lake Superior isn’t even the biggest lake of the Great Lakes. Now I’m not sure who made the mistake of separating Lake Huron and Lake Michigan but they are attached by a narrow channel and not a river. That is both lakes are at the same elevation which is the definition of being one lake. By area, Lake Huron-Michigan is the second biggest lake in the world.
Which puts Lake Superior in third place for the largest lakes in the world by area.
But some of you might know that Lake Superior is deeper than any of the Great Lakes so it may contain more water than Lake Huron-Michigan. You would be right in assuming so. By volume of water, Lake Superior is bigger than Lake Huron-Michigan. But what about the Caspian Lake?
The Caspian Lake is deeper than Lake Superior and thus has a much greater volume of water. So is Lake Superior the second biggest lake by volume? No.
Lake Baikal in Asia is way deeper than Lake Superior. It has more fresh water than all the Great Lakes combined.
Then there is Lake Tanganyika in Africa. It, too, is much deeper than Lake Superior and thus also contains more water.
So Lake Superior is the fourth biggest lake by volume of water. It is hardly superior. So why the name?
Well I’m thinking it has to do with its relation to the other Great Lakes. Lake Superior’s drainage basin doesn’t have a large area to draw from. In other words, Lake Superior is downstream of only a precious few rivers and lakes. But all the other Great Lakes are downstream of lake Superior. All the other Great Lakes take Lake Superior’s waste. And that can make Lake Superior feel a bit superior.