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US Official State Names (Etymology of Names)

Name Etymology and State Nicknames

The fifty U.S. states have taken their names from a wide variety of languages. The names of 25 states derive from indigenous languages of the Americas: 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, five from other Native American languages, and one comes from Hawaiian. The other names derive from European languages: seven come from Latin (mostly from Latinate forms of English personal names), six come from English, five come from Spanish (and one more from an Indigenous language by way of Spanish), and three come from French (one of those by way of English).

Of the fifty states, eleven were named in honor of an individual. There are multiple possible etymologies for six states (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Rhode Island).

Quick Facts on State Names

  • Georgia can refer to either a US state or to an independent country in the Caucasus.
  • New York can refer to any one of three geographical levels: a state, a city in that state, or a county.
  • Hawaii can refer to as the State of Hawaii, or the Island of Hawaii.
  • Washington is a state, a city corresponding to the District of Columbia (and thus not part of any state), and a number of cities and counties in various states.
  • The state of Washington is the only state named after a US President.
  • The official name of Rhode Island is "the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."
  • In many jurisdictions outside of the United States, the capital city shares part or all of its name with the larger political unit of which it is the capital. However, only two US states have state capitals named for the state: Oklahoma, with its capital Oklahoma City, and Indiana, with its capital Indianapolis (polis meaning "city" in Greek). Iowa City was the first state capital of Iowa, but the capital was later moved to Des Moines.
  • Maine is the only state with a monosyllabic name. California, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina each have 5 syllables.
  • Q is the only letter not to appear in the name of a state. J and Z each appear in the name of exactly one state (respectively, New Jersey and Arizona).
  • Two state names can be typed with one hand on a QWERTY keyboard Texas (left) and Ohio (right).
  • Arkansas is the only state in which the pronunciation of the name is specified by law.
  • South Dakota is the only state in which the names of the state and the capital do not share any letters. (The capital is Pierre).
  • Four states have the same initial letter as their capital: Delaware (Dover), Hawaii (Honolulu), Indiana (Indianapolis) and Oklahoma (Oklahoma City).
  • Four state capitals are named after presidents: Jackson, Mississippi (Andrew Jackson); Jefferson City, Missouri (Thomas Jefferson); Madison, Wisconsin (James Madison); and Lincoln, Nebraska (Abraham Lincoln). In addition, the capital of the United States (Washington, DC) was named after George Washington. (One other country has a capital names after a US President, Liberia, whose capital is Monrovia, after James Monroe.)
State Names
State Names & Nicknames
The etymologies of some US state names are more obvious than others, derived from the Spanish or French tongue. Though, more than half of the US state names come from Native American tribal languages, with several still a mystery to scholars and historians.