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Calendar >  Origin of the Names of the States of the United States – Part 1

Origin of the Names of the States of the United States – Part 1

By   /  September 27, 2021  /  No Comments


TR Robertson — There is a story behind each of the names of every state in the United States. All the names come from a wide variety of languages. Twenty-four of the state names come from indigenous languages of the Americas and one from Hawaiian. Twenty-two other state names come from European languages – Latin, Welsh, English, Spanish and French. Six state names origin are disputed or unclear – Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Rhode Island. Within all of this, eleven of the state names are named after an individual. There were attempts to name some states after several of the founding fathers, such as the State of Franklin, the State of Jefferson, even the State of Lincoln. Only the State of Washington was selected along with Washington, D.C. Many of the state names spelling, that originated with the language of Native cultures, has changed before the name we have today was finalized. The date listed is the date accepted as the first date the name we know today was first officially recognized.

Origin of State Names – Alabama to Kansas

Alabama – The name comes from the Alibamu people and is from a Choctaw word meaning “vegetation pickers,” a reference to an old local farming practice of the Alibamu people. When Hernando de Soto’s expedition of 1540 was in the region several of the written references referred to Alibamu. April 19, 1692

Alaska – The name is a corruption of the Aleut word for “mainland,” alaxsxaq (literally “that which the sea breaks against” or “the land facing the sea”). The Russians were the first in Alaska and they pronounced the word Alyaska. Dec. 2, 1666

Arizona – One story says the name came from a Spanish word, Arizonac, identical to a Basque word for “good oak.” A more probable explanation is the name comes from the O’odham (Pima) peoples, ali sona-g, meaning “having a little spring,” which would be changed by the Spanish to Arizonac, later spelled Arizona. Feb. 1, 1863

Arkansas – French explorers of the 17th century met a Native people called the Ugakhpa (“downstream people”). The French spelled their name a number of ways, one was Quapaw. Accompanying the French explorers were Algonquian speaking Illinois people. They called the Quapaw the Akansa (“wind people”). In the early 1800’s explorer Zebulan Pike named the river in this area the Arkansaw. The French spelling was later accepted, Arkansas, but people insisted on pronouncing the s (ar-kan-zus). Immediately following statehood, the Arkansas General Assembly said the name would remain Arkansas, but the pronunciation would be (ar-ken-saw). July 20, 1796

California – The name California existed long before the state was given the name. A 1510 Spanish romance novel, Las Sergas de Esplandian, by Garcia Rodriguez de Montalvo referred to the Island of California, inhabited only by Queen Calafia. The name originally translated to “hot oven,” and it is believed the Spanish missionaries spoke of the land in Latin as calida fornax. May 22, 1850

Colorado – Colorado is a Spanish adjective meaning “red-colored” or “dirty.” Spanish explorers would originally use the word to refer to the river that ran through the land. The name for the state was chosen for the Colorado Territory in 1861 by Congress. 1743

Connecticut – Connecticut was named for the Connecticut River which was named by the Native tribe Mohicans. In the Eastern Algonquian language, the word quinnitukqut means “beside the long tidal river.” April 15, 1696

Delaware – The state took its name from the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay, both of which were named by French explorer Sir Thomas West, the 12th Baron De La Warr. The Delaware Indians were named by English settlers, they are the in fact the Lenape. Jan. 31, 1680

Florida – Florida is the feminine singular form of the Spanish word florido, “flowery,” feminine from the phrase Pascua florida, “feast of flowers,” a Spanish name for the Easter season. Historically the area was discovered and explored by the Spanish during the Easter season. April 2, 1513

Georgia – The state was named in honor of King George II of England. Around 1730, James Oglethorpe put together a plan to obtain the release of people from London’s debtors’ prison and to establish a new colony south of Carolina. It was to be inhabited by the “worth poor” of London. In February of 1733, a small group of settlers sailed by the Savannah River to establish a colony they would name Georgia, the feminine Latin form of George, in honor of King George II. October 3, 1774

Hawaii – Several theories as the name Hawaii exist. The name of the state comes from the largest island. Captain James Cook called the islands the Sandwich Islands, in honor of the Earl of Sandwich in 1778. King Kamehameha I united the islands in 1819 as the Kingdom of Hawaii. One theory says the name comes from the word hawa (“homeland”) and ii (small or active”). Another theory says the name comes from Hawaii Loa (Hawai’iloa), who according to tradition, was the Polynesian who originally discovered them or from Hawaiki, legendary homeland of the Polynesians. Hawaiki is believed to mean “place of the gods.” Dec. 29, 1879

Idaho – Several theories exist for the name of this state. One theory is that the name was made up and partially taken from a Shoshone word meaning “Gem of the Mountains.” Others say it is from an English corruption of a Kiowa Apache word, idaahe, which means enemy in reference to the Comanches whom the Kiowas fought with over the land in this area. The English version Idaho was used when the area was established as a territory on March 4, 1863. June 6, 1863

Illinois – The state is named after the Illinois River which was named by French explorers after the indigenous Illiniwek people, a group of Algonquian tribes that lived in the area. The word Illiniwek means “tribe of superior men.” There is also an Algonquian word, ilenweewa that means “speaks normally.” March 24, 1793

Indiana – The iconic meaning of this state is “the land of Indians” using a traditional Latin suffix. It was given to the Indiana Territory by the U.S. Congress when Indiana was created from the Northwest Territory in 1800. Indiana joined the Union in 1816. Dec. 2, 1794

Iowa – The state is supposedly named for the Native American tribe living in the territory, the Iowas. An 1879 General Assembly of Iowa report said the word meant “the beautiful land”, which is incorrect. The name Iowas was a name given to the tribe from a Dakota Sioux word which means “sleepy ones.” The reference is also to the Iowa River Valley. The Iowas called themselves the Bahkojay. August 31, 1818

Kansas – Another state whose name is associated with a Native American tribe. The name is said to come from the Kansas River that flows through the state and named by the Kaw people, an American Indian people of the central Midwestern U.S. The Kaw, it is said, have also been known as the Kanza, which some think means “Wind People” or “people of the south wind.” May 12, 1832.


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  • Published: 3 years ago on September 27, 2021
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