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Origin of U.S. State names: Meaning of state names

Ever wonder where the names of the 50 states came from? Not recently? Well, you still might find it interesting to glance through some of these. While many of us already learned the origins of our own state, drilled into us in 5th grade history, many of us have forgotten, and very few of us know the origins of the names of other states. Many of these state name origins are actually quite interesting.




ALABAMA. Possibly from the Creek Indian word alibamo, meaning “we stay here.”


ALASKA. From the Aleutian word alakshak, which means “great lands,” or “land that is not an island.”


ARIZONA. Taken either from the pima Indian words ali shonak, meaning “little spring,” or from the Aztec word arizuma, meaning “silver-bearing.”


ARKANSAS. The French somehow coined it from the name of the Siouan Quapaw tribe.


CALIFORNIA. According to one theory, Spanish settlers names it after a utopian society described in a popular 16th-century novel called Serged de Esplandian.


COLORADO. Means “red” in Spanish. The name was originally applied to the Colorado River, whose waters are reddish with canyon clay.


CONNECTICUT. Taken from the Mohican word kuenihtekot, which means “long river place.”


DELAWARE. Named after Lord De La Warr, a governor of Virginia. Originally used only to name the Delaware River.


FLORIDA. Explorer Ponce de Leon named the state Pascua Florida – “flowery Easter”-on Easter Sunday in 1513.


GEORGIA. Named after King George II of England, who charted the colony in 1732.


HAWAII. An English adaptation of the native word owhyhee, which means “homeland.”


IDAHO. Possibly taken from the Kiowa Apache word for the Comanche Indians.


ILLINOIS. The French bastardization of the Algonquin word illini, which means “men.”


INDIANA. Named by English-speaking settlers because the territory was full of Indians.


IOWA. The Sioux word for “beautiful land,” or “one who puts to sleep.”


KANSAS. Taken from the Sioux word for “south wind people,” their name for anyone who lived south of Sioux territory.


KENTUCKY. Possibly derived from the Indian word kan-tuk-kee, meaning “dark and bloody ground.” Or kan-tuc-kec, “land of green reeds”, or ken-take, meaning “meadowland.”


LOUISIANA. Named after French King Louis XIV.


MAINE. The Old French word for “province.”


MARYLAND. Named after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of English King George I.


MASSACHUSETTS. Named after the Massachusetts Indian tribe. Means “large hill place.”


MICHIGAN. Most likely from the Chippewa word for “great water.” micigama.


MINNESOTA. From the Sioux word for “sky tinted” or “muddy water.”


MISSISSIPPI. Most likely taken from the Chippewa words mici (“great”) and zibi (“river”).


MISSOURI. From the Algonquin word for “muddy water.”


MONTANA. Taken from the Latin word for “mountainous.”


NEBRASKA. From the Otos Indian word for “broad water.”


NEVADA. Means “snow-clad” in Spanish.


NEW HAMPSHIRE. Capt. John Mason, one of the original colonists, named it after his English home county of Hampshire.


NEW JERSEY. Named after the English Isle of Jersey.


NEW MEXICO. The Spanish name for the territory north of the Rio Grande.


NEW YORK. Named after the Duke of York and Albany.


NORTH AND SOUTH CAROLINA. From the Latin name Carolus; named in honor of King Charles I of England.


NORTH AND SOUTH DAKOTA. Taken from the Sioux word for “friend,” or “ally.”


OHIO. Means “great,” “fine,” or “good river” in Iriquois.


OKLAHOMA. The Choctaw word for “red man.”


OREGON. Possibly derived from Ouaricon-sint, the French name for the Wisconsin River.


PENNSYLVANIA. Named after William Penn, Sr., the father of the colony’s founder, William Penn. Means “Penn’s woods.”


RHODE ISLAND. Named “Roode Eylandt” (Red Island) because of its red clay.


TENNESSEE. Named after the Cherokee tanasi villages along the banks of the Little Tennessee River.


TEXAS. Derived from the Caddo Indian word for “friend,” or “ally.”


UTAH. Means “upper,” or “higher,” and was originally the name that Navajos called the Shoshone tribe.


VERMONT. A combination of the French words vert (“green”) and mont (“mountain”).


VIRGINIA AND WEST VIRGINIA. Named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, the “virgin” queen, by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584.


WASHINGTON. Named after George Washington.


WISCONSIN. Taken from the Chippewa word for “grassy place.”


WYOMING. Derived from the Algonquin word for “large prairie place.”



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One Response to “Origin of U.S. State names: Meaning of state names””

  1. Jason Says:
    April 5th, 2008 at 12:58 am

    The listed origin for Minnesota and Missouri are the same here, while Minnesota is correct, Missouri comes from a word that means Dugout Canoe. Check out a full in-depth piece I published on all 50 State Name origins here:

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