List of state name etymologies in the United States

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Map showing the source languages of state names

The fifty U.S. states have taken their names from a wide variety of languages. The names of 24 states derive from indigenous languages of the Americas and one from Hawaiian: eight come from Algonquian languages, seven from Siouan languages (one of those by way of Illinois, an Algonquian language), three from Iroquoian languages, one from a Uto-Aztecan language, and five from other Native American languages.

Twenty-two other state names derive from European languages: seven come from Latin (mostly from Latinate forms of English personal names), five come from English, five come from Spanish (and one more from an Indigenous language by way of Spanish), and four come from French (one of these by way of English). The etymologies of six states are disputed or unclear: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Rhode Island (in the table below, those states have one row for each potential source language or meaning).

Of the fifty states, eleven are named in honor of an individual. Of those eleven, seven are named in honor of kings and queens: the two Carolinas, the two Virginias, Maryland, Louisiana and Georgia. Only one is named after a president of the United States.

State names[edit]

State name Date of First Original language Year of First Original language Language of origin Word of origin Meaning and Notes
Alabama
Map of USA AL.svg
April 19 1742 Choctaw albah amo "Thicket-clearers"[1] or "plant-cutters", from albah, "(medicinal) plants", and amo, "to clear". The modern Choctaw name for the tribe is Albaamu.[2]
Alaska
Map of USA AK.svg
December 2 1897 Aleut via Russian alaxsxaq via Аляска "Mainland" (literally "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed").[3]
Arizona
Map of USA AZ.svg
February 1 1883 Basque aritz ona "The good oak".[4]
O'odham via Spanish ali ṣona-g via Arizonac[5] "Having a little spring".[6]
Spanish zonas áridas "Arid zones".[citation needed]
Arkansas
Map of USA AR.svg
July 20 1796 Kansa, via Illinois and French akaansa Borrowed from a French spelling of an Illinois rendering of the tribal name kką:ze (see Kansas, below), which the Miami and Illinois used to refer to the Quapaw.[6][7][8][9]
California
Map of USA CA.svg
May 22 1850 Spanish Unknown Probably named for the fictional Island of California ruled by Queen Calafia in the 16th century novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.[10]
See also: Etymology of California
Colorado
Map of USA CO.svg
1743 Spanish colorado "Ruddy", or "red",[11] originally referring to the Colorado River.[12]
Connecticut
Map of USA CT.svg
April 15 1675 Eastern Algonquian quinnitukqut From some Eastern Algonquian language of southern New England (perhaps Mahican), meaning "at the long tidal river", after the Connecticut River.[13][14] The name reflects Proto-Eastern-Algonquian *kwən-, "long"; *-əhtəkw, "tidal river"; and *-ənk, the locative suffix).[15]
Delaware
Map of USA DE.svg
January 31 1680 French via English de la Warr After the Delaware River, which was named for Lord de la Warr (originally probably Norman French de la guerre or de la werre, "of the war").[16] Lord de la Warr was the first Governor-General of Jamestown.[17]
Florida
Map of USA FL.svg
December 28 1819 Spanish (pascua) florida "Flowery (Easter)"[18] (to distinguish it from Christmastide which was also called Pascua), in honor of its discovery by the Spanish during the Easter season.[19] Compare the state name with the English word "florid".
Georgia
Map of USA GA.svg
October 3 1674 Latin via English (ultimately from Greek) Georgos The feminine Latin form of "George", named after King George II of Great Britain.[20][21] It was also a reference to Saint George, whose name meant in Greek "husbandman" "farmer" from ge "earth" + ergon "work".[22]
Hawaii
Map of USA HI.svg
December 29 1879 Hawaiian Hawaiʻi From Hawaiki, legendary homeland of the Polynesians.[23] Hawaiki is believed to mean "place of the gods".[24]
Named for Hawaiʻiloa, legendary discoverer of the Hawaiian Islands.[25]
Idaho
Map of USA ID.svg
June 6 1864 English I-dah-hoe Probably made up by George M. "Doc" Willing as a practical joke; originally claimed to have been derived from a word in a Native American language that meant "Gem of the Mountains".[26] The name was initially proposed for the state of Colorado until its origins were discovered. Years later it fell into common usage, and was proposed for the state it now names.[27]
Plains Apache ídaahę́ Possibly from the Plains Apache word for "enemy" (ídaahę́), which was used to refer to the Comanches.[28]
Illinois
Map of USA IL.svg
March 24 1793 Algonquian via French ilenweewa The state is named for the French adaptation of an Algonquian language (perhaps Miami) word apparently meaning "speaks normally" (cf. Miami ilenweewa,[29] Old Ottawa <ilinoüek>,[30] Proto-Algonquian *elen-, "ordinary" and -we·, "to speak"),[31] referring to the Illiniwek (Illinois).[30]
Indiana
Map of USA IN.svg
December 2 1794 Latin (ultimately from Proto-Indo-Iranian) "Land of the Indians".[32] The names Indians and India come, via Greek and Persian, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sindhu-, which originally referred to the Indus River.[33]
Iowa
Map of USA IA.svg
August 31 1818 Dakota via French ayúxba/ayuxwe via Aiouez By way of French Aiouez, and named after the Iowa tribe. The name seems to have no further known etymology,[34][35] though some give it the meaning "sleepy ones".[36]
Kansas
Map of USA KS.svg
May 12 1832 Kansa via French kką:ze via Cansez[37] Named after the Kansas River,[38][39] which in turn was named after the Kaw or Kansas tribe.[7] The name seems to be connected to the idea of "wind".[40]
Kentucky
Map of USA KY.svg
April 28 1728 Iroquoian Originally referring to the Kentucky River. While some sources say the etymology is uncertain,[41][42] most agree on a meaning of "(on) the meadow" or "(on) the prairie"[43][44] (cf. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca gëdá’geh (phonemic /kẽtaʔkeh/), "at the field").[45]
Louisiana
Map of USA LA.svg
July 18 1787 French (ultimately from Frankish) Louisiane After King Louis XIV of France.[46] The name Louis came itself from Frankish hluda "heard of, famous" (cf. loud) + wiga "war".[47]
Maine
Map of USA ME.svg
October 13 1729 English main A common historical etymology is that the state's name refers to the mainland, as opposed to the coastal islands.[48][49]
French After the French province of Maine.[50]
English A more recent proposal is that the state was named after the English village of Broadmayne which was the family estate of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the colony's founder.[27][51]
Maryland
Map of USA MD.svg
January 18 1691 English (ultimately from Hebrew) Miryam After Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England.[52] The name Mary originally meant in Hebrew "bitterness" or "rebelliousness", and could also have come from Egyptian "beloved" or "love".[53]
Massachusetts
Map of USA MA.svg
June 4 1665 Algonquian Plural of "Massachusett" meaning "Near the great little-mountain", or "at the great hill", usually identified as Great Blue Hill on the border of Milton and Canton, Massachusetts[54] (cf. the Narragansett name Massachusêuck).[54]
Michigan
Map of USA MI.svg
October 28 1811 Ojibwe via French mishigami "Large water" or "large lake"[55][56] (in Old Algonquin, *meshi-gami).[57]
Minnesota
Map of USA MN.svg
April 21 1821 Dakota mnisota "Cloudy water", referring to the Minnesota River.[14][58]
Mississippi
Map of USA MS.svg
March 9 1800 Ojibwe via French misi-ziibi "Great river", after the Mississippi River.[55][59]
Missouri
Map of USA MO.svg
September 7 1805 Illinois mihsoori "Dugout canoe". The Missouri tribe was noteworthy among the Illinois for their dugout canoes, and so was referred to as the wimihsoorita, "one who has a wood boat [dugout canoe]".[60]
Montana
Map of USA MT.svg
November 1 1860 Spanish montaña "Mountain".[61]
Nebraska
Map of USA NE.svg
June 22 1847 Chiwere ñįbraske "flattened water", after the Platte River, which used to be known as the Nebraska River, due to the flatness of the plains, when the river would flood, it would blanket the region.[62]
Nevada
Map of USA NV.svg
February 9 1845 Spanish "Snow-covered",[63] after the Sierra Nevada ("snow-covered mountains").
New Hampshire
Map of USA NH.svg
August 27 1692 English After the county of Hampshire in England.[64]
New Jersey
Map of USA NJ.svg
April 2 1669 French (ultimately from Old Norse) After Jersey[65] (the largest of the British Channel Islands), birthplace of one of the colony's two co-founders, Sir George de Carteret.[65] The state was established under the name of New Caeserea or New Jersey because the Roman name of the island was thought to have been Caesarea.[66][67] The name "Jersey" most likely comes from the Norse name Geirrs ey meaning "Geirr's Island".[68]
New Mexico
Map of USA NM.svg
November 1 1859 Nahuatl via Spanish Mēxihco via Nuevo México A calque of Spanish Nuevo México.[69] The name Mexico comes from Nahuatl Mēxihca, the Aztec people who founded the city of Tenochtitlan(pronounced /meːˈʃiʔko/).[70][71] Its literal meaning is unknown, though many possibilities have been proposed such as that the name comes from the God Metztli,[72] or that it means "navel of the moon".[73]
New York
Map of USA NY.svg
October 15 1680 English After the then Duke of York (later King James II of England). Named by then King Charles II of England, James II's brother.[74] The name "York" is derived from its Latin name Eboracum (via Old English Eoforwic and then Old Norse Jórvík), apparently borrowed from Brythonic Celtic *eborakon, which probably meant "Yew-Tree Estate".[75] See also York#Toponymy for more information.
North Carolina
Map of USA NC.svg
June 30 1686 Latin via English (ultimately from Frankish) Carolus via Carolana After King Charles I of England.[76] The name Charles came itself from Frankish karl "man, husband".[77]
North Dakota
Map of USA ND.svg
November 2 1867 Sioux dakhóta "Ally" or "friend",[62] after the Dakota tribe.[78]
Ohio
Map of USA OH.svg
April 19 1785 Seneca via French ohi:yo’ [79] "Large creek",[43] originally the name of both the Ohio River and Allegheny River.[80] Often incorrectly translated as "beautiful river",[81] due to a French mistranslation.[29]
Oklahoma
Map of USA OK.svg
September 5 1842 Choctaw okla + homa Devised as a rough translation of "Indian Territory"; in Choctaw, okla means "people", "tribe", or "nation", and homa- means "red", thus: "Red people".[14][82]
Oregon
Map of USA OR.svg
July 20 1860 Connecticut Pidgin Algonquian wauregan "Beautiful".[83][84] First named by Major Robert Rogers in a petition to King George III.[85]
See also: Oregon (toponym)
Pennsylvania
Map of USA PA.svg
March 8 1650 Welsh and Latin Penn + silvania "Penn's woods", after Admiral William Penn.[86] The name "Penn" comes from Pennaeth which is the Welsh word for "head".[87]
Rhode Island
Map of USA RI.svg
February 3 1680 Dutch roodt eylandt "Red island", referring to Aquidneck Island.[88] The Modern Dutch form of the phrase is "rood eiland".
Greek ῾Ρόδος For a resemblance to the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea.[88]
South Carolina
Map of USA SC.svg
November 12 1687 Latin via English (ultimately from Frankish) Carolus via Carolana After King Charles I of England.[89] The name Charles came itself from Frankish karl "man, husband".[77]
South Dakota
Map of USA SD.svg
November 2 1867 Sioux dakhóta "Ally" or "friend". See North Dakota, above.
Tennessee
Map of USA TN.svg
May 24 1747 Cherokee ᏔᎾᏏ tanasi Tanasi (in Cherokee: ᏔᎾᏏ) was the name of a Cherokee village;[90] the meaning is unknown.[91]
Texas
Map of USA TX.svg
June 30 1827 Caddo via Spanish táyshaʔ via Tejas "Friend",[92] used by the Caddo to refer the larger Caddo nation (in opposition to enemy tribes). The name was borrowed into Spanish as texa, plural texas, and used to refer to the Caddo Nation.[93]
Utah
Map of USA UT.svg
December 20 1877 Western Apache via Spanish yúdah via yuta From the Spanish designation for the Ute people, yuta, in turn perhaps a borrowing from Western Apache yúdah meaning "high"[94] (not, as is commonly stated,[95] "people of the mountains"[96] and not[97] from the Ute's own self-designation [nutʃi̥] (plural [nuːtʃiu]), as suggested by J. P. Harrington).[98][99]
Vermont
Map of USA VT.svg
September 27 1721 French vert + mont "Green mount" or "Green mountain"; vert in French means "green", and mont means "mount" or "mountain".[100]
Virginia
Map of USA VA.svg
March 21 1652 Latin "Country of the Virgin", after Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married.[101]
Washington
Map of USA WA.svg
February 22 1872 English After George Washington.[102]
West Virginia
Map of USA WV.svg
September 1 1831 Latin The western, transmontane, counties of Virginia; separated from Virginia during Civil War; see Virginia, above.
Wisconsin
Map of USA WI.svg
February 5 1822 Miami via French Wishkonsing [103] Originally spelled Mescousing by the French, and later corrupted to Ouisconsin.[104] Likely it derives from a Miami word Meskonsing meaning "it lies red" [104][105] It may also come from the Ojibwe term miskwasiniing, "red-stone place".[55]
Wyoming
Map of USA WY.svg
August 14 1877 Munsee Delaware xwé:wamənk "At the big river flat"; the name was transplanted westward from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.[106]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Bright (2004:29)
  3. ^ Ransom, J. Ellis. 1940. Derivation of the Word ‘Alaska’. American Anthropologist n.s., 42: pp. 550–551
  4. ^ Thompson, Clay (2007-02-25). "A sorry state of affairs when views change". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  5. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  6. ^ a b Bright (2004:47)
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  9. ^ To appear. "Arkansas" in the Oxford English Dictionary
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  48. ^ Or maybe it was created by similar abbervation MAssachusetts In North-East, when Maine's land was part of Massachusetts (until 1820).
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  71. ^ "Nahuatl Pronunciation Lesson 1". Nahuatl Tlahtolkalli. 2005-07-07. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
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  73. ^ "The Aztecs". Solarnavigator.net. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
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  88. ^ a b "Rhode Island". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  89. ^ "South Carolina". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
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  91. ^ Mooney, James. 1900(1995). Myths of the Cherokee, pg. 534
  92. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Texas". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  93. ^ Bright (2004:491)
  94. ^ 1986. "Great Basin", ed. Warren L. d'Azevedo. Vol. 11 of Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Cited in: Bright (2004:534)
  95. ^ "Quick Facts about Utah's History and Land". Utah state website. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
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  97. ^ 1986. Warren L. d'Azevedo, ed., "Great Basin". Vol. 11 of William C. Sturtevant, ed., Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 364–5
  98. ^ Harrington, John P. 1911. The Origin of the Names Ute and Paiute. American Anthropologist, n.s., 13: pp. 173–174
  99. ^ Opler, Marvin K. 1943. The Origins of Comanche and Ute. American Anthropologist, n.s., 45: pp. 155–158
  100. ^ "Vermont". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  101. ^ "Virginia". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  102. ^ "Washington". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  103. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  104. ^ a b "Wisconsin's Name: Where it Came from and What it Means". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  105. ^ McCafferty, Michael. 2003. On Wisconsin: The Derivation and Referent of an Old Puzzle in American Placenames. Onoma 38: 39–56
  106. ^ Bright (2004:576)

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bright, William (2004). Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Guyton, Kathy (2009) U.S. State Names: The Stories of How Our States Were Named (Nederland, Colorado: Mountain Storm Press)

External links[edit]