How the States Got Their Names


Recently, I was sent this information from I found it interesting and hope you do too:

Every state in America has its own unique culture, flavor and quirks – including their names. State pride is alive and well from Alabama to Wyoming, but have you ever wondered how your state got its name?

While the name etymology for some states is a bit muddled, in general, a good number are derived from Native American tribes and languages, such as Algonquin, Sioux and Iroquois. Still others are nods to the origins of the European settlers who claimed patches of America for their own – and their sovereigns.

Here’s a guide to where all 50 state names came from – and what they mean!

Alabama comes from the Choctaw word albah amo meaning thicket-clearers or plant cutters.

Alaska has ties to the Aleuts and the Russians, with the words alaxsxaq and Аляска respectively, essentially meaning mainland.

Arizona has ancient roots as an Uto-Aztecan word ali sona-g that was adopted by the Spaniards as Arizonac, meaning good oaks.

Arkansas is the French pronunciation of an Algonquin name for the Quapaw people, akansa.

California is truly a magical place. So magical in fact, it’s named after a fictional world invented by the author Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, which Spanish explorers adopted when setting foot on the gold coast.

Colorado is another Spanish-influenced name that essentially means ruddy or ruddish. The name was first applied to the Colorado River for its distinctive color.

Connecticut much like Colorado, was named for the river running through it. The word itself possibly stems from the Native American word quinnitukqut, meaning beside or at the long tidal river.

Delaware is also named for a body of water, but that body of water was named for Baron De la Warr, the first English governor of Virginia. The Baron’s name is old French for of the war.

Florida taps into its Spanish roots by referencing Pascua florida, meaning flowering Easter, as Spanish explorers found the lush area during Easter. There’s also ties to the Latin word floridus, meaning strikingly beautiful.

Georgia may be known for its southern hospitality now, but it’s actually named for King George II from Great Britain. Fun fact: if HRH Prince George of Cambridge takes the throne one day, he’ll be King George VII!

Hawaii stems from the Hawaiian language itself, specifically the Polynesian word hawaiki, meaning place of the Gods. It was however, originally named the Sandwich Islands by James Cook in the late 1700s.

Idaho has notorious roots in the Athabaskan word idaahe, meaning enemy. It was originally applied to part of Colorado before being officially given to the gem state.

Indiana as you might expect stems from the English word, Indian, to describe Native Americans. The Latin suffix tacked on the end roughly means land of the Indians.

Iowa comes from the Dakota word yuxba, meaning sleepy ones.

Kansas quite simply references another group of people living here, the Kansa tribe, meaning people of the south wind. Makes sense for tornado alley!

Kentucky is yet another state named for the river running through it, inspired by the Shawnee word for on the meadow.

Louisiana like Georgia was named for a regent of the times, specifically, Louis XIV of France.

Maine has uncertain origins, although notably, France also has a province called Maine.

Maryland is a tip of the hat from King Charles I to his wife Henrietta Maria. Some husbands give jewelry; King Charles gave naming rights to an entire (albeit small) state.

Massachusetts comes directly from the Algonquian word Massachusett that again, references the people living in the area, and means at the large hill.

Michigan also comes from a body of water, based on the French spelling of the Algonquin word meshi-gami, meaning big lake.

Minnesota, like many other Midwest states, comes from Native American languages. In this case, the Dakota word mnisota meaning cloudy, milky water.

Mississippi literally means big river in Algonquin Ojibwa, although it’s based on the French variation of the word.

Missouri relates to the Algonquin word wimihsoorita which translates as people of the big canoes.

Montana has some Spanish flair that links back to the Latin mons, for mountains.

Nebraska stems from the Sioux name for the Platte River, omaha ni braska, meaning flat water.

Nevada quite simply comes from the Spanish name for the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountain range, which essentially means snowy mountains, or snowcapped.

New Hampshire is the first of many states and cities named as new outposts of other parts of the world. In this case, Hampshire was a county in Southampton, England.

New Jersey was coined by Sir George Carteret of the Channel island of Jersey.

New Mexico is self-explanatory and based on the Spanish Nuevo Mexico, although did you know the Aztec language actually coined the word Mexihco for their ancient capital?

New York was named for the Duke of York and future King James II.

North / South Carolina are more states named after regents, King Charles II in fact, as Carolus is the proper Latin version of Charles.

North / South Dakota: The word Dakota of course describes the Dakota people, but it also means friendly or allies.

Ohio once again comes from a body of water, this time, the Ohio River, which the Seneca Native Americans billed as a good river.

Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw word meaning red people.

Oregon’s origin is less clear, although some scholars point to Algonquin as the source.

Pennsylvania was named for Admiral William Penn, after being suggested by Charles II, and literally means Penn’s Woods.

Rhode Island has multiple name theories, including the idea that Dutch explorer Adrian Block applied the name Roodt Eylandt, meaning red island, to reflect the red cliffs of the region. Alternatively, it may come from the Greek island of Rhodes.

Tennessee comes from the Cherokee village name ta’nasi, although its meaning is unclear.

Texas is another old Spanish name from the word tejas, meaning friends or allies.

Utah has a short, spunky sound from the Spanish yuta, the name given to indigenous Uto-Aztecan people of the mountains.

Vermont has an elegant French sound and meaning – mont vert means green mountain in French.

Virginia / West Virginia is a Latin nod to sovereign Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.

Washington, naturally, is named for President George Washington, and his name actually means estate of a man named Wassa in old English.

Wisconsin may come from the Miami word meskonsing, which was spelled by the French as mescousingand then shifted to ouisconsin.


Filed under All things having to do with the English language

2 responses to “How the States Got Their Names

  1. Sadir Haji

    Poor Illinois and Wyoming got skipped.

    How are you and Handsome doing?

    All’s fine here with the Haji brood, but poor Madi injures her left knee during HS soccer tryouts and will be getting her torn ACL repaired this week. She just got her license this week too (turned 17 on the 1st). Jack and Brandon are both doing great as is Sharon sho started working again a couple of weeks ago after 17 years of raising the Haji children.

    Hope to see you again soon.

    Be well.

    Sadir Haji
    Department Manager, Autonomous Mobility
    T: (201) 818-8288 | M: (201) 248-6583



  2. Always wonderful to hear from you, Sadir. I hope Madison’s surgery and recovery will have her back to soccer before too long. Hi to all the family!


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