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Origin of the 50 State Name: Etymologies

Every state in the United States has an official name

Origin of state names - 50 states - where did the state name come from? What does the word mean? Most state names are based on native Indian languages, historical figures, or were named by early explorers comparing new lands to the Old World. The origin of some state names has been blurred or lost over time.

If you want to understand a state's history, start by looking at its name. Access profiles of each of the 50 US states names and details on the origin of the state name.

Origin of State Names: Etymologies

Etymology

Origin of Name

Alabama
Name Origin
Origin of the name Alabama is thought to come from a combination of two Choctaw words; Alba and Amo. In Choctaw, "Alba" means vegetation, herbs, plants and "Amo" means gatherer or picker.
Alaska
Name Origin
Alaska's name is derived from the Aleut word "Alyeska," meaning "great land" or "that which the sea breaks against."
Arizona
Name Origin
Arizona's name come from combination of two words from the Papago Indian dialect of the Pima language; "Aleh" and "Zon" together as "Aleh-zon" meaning "little spring."
Arkansas
Name Origin
Group of Indians known as the Quapaws lived in what is now northern Arkansas. Indians of the Ohio Valley referred to the Quapaws as the Arkansas, or "South Wind," thus the origin of Arkansas name.
California
Name Origin
State of California name comes from a mythical Spanish island ruled by a queen called Califia that was featured in a Spanish romance ("Las Sergas de Esplandian"). From a book, Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, c. 1500. (the Spanish explorers originally thought that California was an island)
Colorado
Name Origin
Colorado's name, has its origin in the Spanish language, as the word for "ruddy"or "red."
Connecticut
Name Origin
Connecticut's name is a particular reference to the Connecticut River. The word itself was translated from the Indian name "Quinnehtukqut" and means "beside the long tidal river."
Delaware
Name Origin
The Indians and the state of Delaware were both named after the Delaware River. And where did the river get it's name? The Delaware River was named after Sir Thomas West (Lord de la Warr)
DC
Name Origin
DC, named District of Columbia, because it was built on land of the Territory of Columbia
Florida
Name Origin
Florida's name was derived from Spanish, meaning "feast of flowers." (Easter)
Georgia
Name Origin
Georgia named after England's King George II in 1733.
Hawaii
Name Origin
One theory has it that Hawaii name comes from a combination of the words "Hawa" and "ii" and means a small or new homeland; "Hawa" meaning a traditionl homeland and "ii" meaning small and raging. The other theory is that the name comes from the traditional discoverer of the islands, Hawaii Loa.
Idaho
Name Origin
The name "Idaho" was used for a steamship which traveled the Columbia River. "Idaho" is a coined or invented word, and is not a derivation of an Indian phrase "E Dah Hoe (How)" supposedly meaning "gem of the mountains."
Illinois
Name Origin
Illinois's name is Algonquin for "tribe of superior men"
Indiana
Name Origin
Indiana was the name given to the Indiana Territory by the United States Congress when Indiana was created from the Northwest Territory in 1800. It means "Land of Indians."
Iowa
Name Origin
Iowa's name origin was taken from 'The Iowa River' witch was named after the Iowa Indians who lived in the territory. The tribal name "Ayuxwa" was spelled by the French as "Ayoua" and by the English as "Ioway." "Ayuxwa" means "one who puts to sleep."
Kansas
Name Origin
Kansas' name origin was from 'The Kansas River' that was named by the French after the Kansas, Omaha, Kaw, Osage and Dakota Sioux Indian word "KaNze" meaning, in the Kansas language "south wind."
Kentucky
Name Origin
Kentucky's name comes from the Wyandot Indian name for "plain" in reference to the central plains of the state.
Louisiana
Name Origin
Louisiana's name came a French explorer that named the area La Louisianne after Louis XIV of France in 1682.
Maine
Name Origin
Maine's name was first used to distinguish the mainland from the offshore islands. It has been considered a compliment to Henrietta Maria, queen of Charles I of England. She was said to have owned the province of Mayne in France.
Maryland
Name Origin
Maryland named to honor King Charle's wife Queen Henrietta Maria (Queen Mary)
Massachusetts
Name Origin
The Jesuit missionary Father Rasles thought that Massachusetts' name was taken from the word Messatossec, "Great-Hills-Mouth": "mess" (mass) meaning "great"; "atsco" (as chu or wad chu) meaning "hill"; and sec (sac or saco) meaning "mouth". The Reverend John Cotton used another variation: "mos" and "wetuset", meaning "Indian arrowhead", descriptive of the Native Americans hill home. Another explanation is that the word comes from "massa" meaning "great" and "wachusett", "mountain-place."
Michigan
Name Origin
Michigan's name originally referred to a clearing on the lower peninsula and was derived from the Chippewa Indian word "majigan" which means clearing. Lake Michigan was named after this clearing by European explorers in the area in the 1670's. From Chippewa words mici gama meaning "great water," after the lake of the same name.
Minnesota
Name Origin
Minnesota's name come from the named the Dakota Sioux for the river's "cloudy" or "milky water." The Dakota word "mnishota" means "cloudy" or "milky water."
Mississippi
Name Origin
Mississippi's name was derived from the Chippewa; mici zibi, "great river" or "gathering-in of all the waters." Also: Algonquin word, "Messipi."
Missouri
Name Origin
Missouri gets its name from a tribe of Sioux Indians of the state called the Missouris. The word "Missouri" often has been construed to mean "muddy water" but the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology has stated it means "town of the large canoes," and authorities have said the Indian syllables from which the word comes mean "wooden canoe people" or "he of the big canoe."
Montana
Name Origin
Created out of the Idaho Territory in 1864, the name Montana is a derivation of the Latin word "montaanus" which means mountainous.
Nebraska
Name Origin
Nebraska named after the Platte River from the French meaning "broad river." The Omaha Indians called the river "ibôápka" also meaning "broad river."
Nevada
Name Origin
Spanish sailors gazed upon the beautiful mountain ranges of California. They called these mountains Sierra Nevada (snowy range). Sierra Nevada seemed an apt name for the new territory that was being carved out of Utah, but when the deed was done in 1859, the name of this new territory was shortened to Nevada.
New Hampshire
Name Origin   
Captain John Mason received a grant for land in 1629. He named this land New Hampshire after the English county of Hampshire where he had enjoyed a number of years as a child.
New Jersey
Name Origin
Sir John Berkley and Sir George Carteret received a royal charter for a colony in the new land and named this colony for the island of Jersey in the English Channel.
New Mexico
Name Origin
Name of New Mexico is an anglicized version of "Nuevo Mexico," the Spanish name for the upper Rio Grande. Mexico, an Aztec spelling, means "place of Mexitli" one of the Aztec gods.
New York
Name Origin
The State of New York was named by the British to honor the the Duke of York and Albany, the brother of England's King Charles II, when New Amsterdam was taken from the Dutch in 1664.
North Carolina
Name Origin
North Carolina was named to honor Charles IX of France and then Charles I and Charles II of England. Carolina is rooted in Latin and comes from the word Caroliinus. This word is derived from the name Carolus, translated as "Charles."
North Dakota
Name Origin
North Dakota's name is derived from Dakota, Sioux Indian word for "friend".
Ohio
Name Origin
Ohio is the name that the Iroqois Indians used when referring to the river and means "large" or "beautiful river."
Oklahoma
Name Origin
Oklahoma's name was derived when Allen Wright combined two Choctaw words, "ukla" meaning person and "humá" meaning red to form the word that first appears in a 1866 Choctaw treaty. Oklahoma means "red person."
Oregon
Name Origin
Historians say Oregon was most likely named after one of two rivers. The Columbia River, which forms a coastline along the northern border, was at one time called the Oregon or Ouragan, which is French for hurricane. Others believe the name was derived from a mapmaker's error in the 1700s. The Wisconsin River was named the Ouisconsink and was picked up by travelers referring to the country west of the Great Lakes as Ourigan.
Pennsylvania
Name Origin
Pennsylvania's name was derived from the charter given to William Penn by England's Charles II in 1680. The Latin Sylvania meaning "woodlands" was added to Penn to create "Penn's woods."
Rhode Island
Name Origin
Rhode Island was named "Roodt Eylandt" meaning "red island" in reference to the red clay that lined the shore. The name was later anglicized when the region came under British rule.
South Carolina
Name Origin
South Carolina was named to honor Charles IX of France and then Charles I and Charles II of England. Carolina is rooted in Latin and comes from the word Caroliinus. This word is derived from the name Carolus, translated as "Charles."
South Dakota
Name Origin
North and South Dakota were one territory until 1889. South Dakota was named for the Dakota, Sioux tribe which lived in the region. Dakota is the Sioux word for "friends" or "allies."
Tennessee
Name Origin
Tennessee was named after the Little Tennessee River. Originally "Tanasi" the river took its name from two Cherokee villages on its banks.
Texas
Name Origin
Texas's name comes from the word "teysha" meaning "hello friend" in the language of the Caddo Indian tribes. Spanish explorers and settlers used this word to refer to the friendly tribes throughout Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
Utah
Name Origin
Navajo Indians were referred to by the Apache as "Yuttahih" meaning "one that is higher up." Europeans misunderstood this term to refer to the tribes living higher in the mountains than the Navajo, the Utes, and the territory was called the land of the Utes, thus the name Utah.
Vermont
Name Origin
Vermont is an English form of the name that French explorer Samuel de Champlain gave to Vermont's Green Mountains on his 1647 map. He called them "Verd Mont" meaning green mountain.
Virginia
Name Origin
Virginia was named in 1584 in honor of Queen Elizabeth of England, who was popularly called the "Virgin Queen."
Washington
Name Origin
Washington Territory established in 1853 was named to honor George Washington.
West Virginia
Name Origin
Until 1861 West Virginia was part of Virginia. Virginia was named to honor Queen Elizabeth of England often referred to as the "Virgin Queen."
Wisconsin
Name Origin
An Indian name, spelled Ouisconsin and Mesconsing by early chroniclers. Believed to mean "grassy place" in Chippewa. Congress made it name, Wisconsin.
Wyoming
Name Origin
Delaware Indian word, meaning "mountains and valleys alternating"; the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. Legh Freeman, publisher of The Frontier Index in Kearny, Nebraska, claimed that it was he who first suggested Wyoming as the name for this portion of the Dakota Territory. Wyoming name comes from the Dakota "mscheweamiing" meaning "at the big flats" or "large plains."
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.
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