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The Origins of State Names

The following is an article from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.











A.M. Walzer Co. United States Inlay Puzzle Map (Image Credit: Marxchivist [Flickr])

The following is reprinted from Uncle John’s Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.

You know the names of all 50 states…but do you know where any of them come from? Here’s the best information we could find on the origin of each.

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."
The article above, titled "State Your Name," is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.

This special edition book covers the three "lost" Bathroom Readers - Uncle John's 5th, 6th and 7th book all in one. The huge (and hugely entertaining) volume covers neat stories like the Strange Fate of the Dodo Bird, the Secrets of Mona Lisa, and more ...

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute


Just a correction; Iowa, Kansas, the Dakotas and Minnesota use words from the Lakota language. Sioux is the name given to the Lakota by white settlers, who learned it from scouts from other tribes; Sioux is a bit of a derivative of the word for "alien" or someone who speaks another language. The name really stuck, and is still used even by some Lakota, but in their own language, "Lakota" is the term they use when referring to themselves and the language.

A little moderation may be needed on Comment #4.
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Dakota/Lakota/Nakota are Native American tribes and languages. Yes in all the languages the name does mean "friend" but it is a little disingenuous to say the "North Dakota" name comes from a word for friend without mentioning the tribe or language.
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A few corrections:

Michigan does not mean 'great water', it is a derivative of the Anishnaabe word for 'turtle' - Michigay. This is due to 'turtle' being a synonymous word for 'land', coming from an Anishnaabe legend in which this continent was built upon the back of a turle after the great flood.

Arizona is just as basic as Colorado, Montana, and Nevada... it means 'arid zone' in Spanish.

North/South Dakota is somewhat different. Dakota is one of the three tribes generally called Sioux by whites, including also the Lakota and Nakota. A 'Dakota' CAN be a friend of a Lakota, but it isn't the word for friend.
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Idaho was a made up word by a newspaper publisher

He told people it was an indian word for "Gem of the Mountains". It wasn't. But it stuck anyway.
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Recent research suggests that Oregon comes from a Native American word for smelt. The word sounded like "ooligan" and the L was changed to an R. See http://duckhenge.uoregon.edu/hparchive/display.php?q=oregon.html

This makes more sense than the other explanation's of the name's origin.
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Rhode Island comes from it's similarity (according to it's
discoverer) to the Isle of Rhodes - there were no Dutch in the area and certainly no red clay - for real - that's Georgia, you pokes...
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Idaho comes from the Shoshone word "Ee-da-how" - "The sun comes down the mountains"

Only someone NOT from Idaho would blatantly get that wrong.
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It's infamously known that IDAHO was named as a hoax by a US politician who claimed it was Native American for "Gem of the Mountains" but later admitted it was a hoax, but by then it had stuck.
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Everyone who was in 4th grade in Idaho up until 1980 or so got brainwashed with the whole Ee-da-how thing. All made up. But it sure made for a good story. Besides, how many people can say that they live in a state whose name is a joke?

And I agree with Some Rhode Islander - I lived in Newport for 5 years and never saw a bit of red clay.
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just to help quash the Arizona "arid zone" -- if a Spaniard were to write on his map that the area is an "arid zone", it would be written as "zona arida"...(because the word order is not the same as in English...e.g., "casa blanca" for white house).

the California name legend is not clear -- one idea is that Balboa wrote "calida fornax" (Latin for "hot furnace") -- this would have been as Balboa was traveling North on his trip up the Pacific coast and through the area of Baja California (Spanish for "Lower California"), which is indeed very hot (like as in "hot as a furnace").

The story goes on to say that in Spanish, the "calida" was bastardized to "callida" (kai-yee-duh) and "fornax" is pronounced "for-nash" -- together "kai-yee-duh-for-nash"...which sounded like "California", the mythical island inhabited solely by dark-skinned women which had been talked about in Europe at least since the late 15th century.

Of course, this was a natural link since what we now know as Baja California, Mexico was drawn as an island on early 16th century maps. Later Cortez was sent to explore/claim "California" and that is apparently documented -- whether it was beleived to be the fabled island...is not clear. Cortez made several documented missions but apparently left the settling of the land to later conquerers...who continued to call it California Alta (Upper California) and California Baja (Lower California).
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Alabama was the name of an indian tribe in the southern US.

Supporting material: http://wwwlib.umi.com/bod/fullcite?id=187826
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Yeah our state settled on Indiana, but the original name of "Land of the Ugliest Girls in the Frontier" didn't go over well with the then just starting Chamber of Commerce, so it was changed back to 'Indiana' mostly for tourist reasons.
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Near the town of Sutton, Surrey, England there is a village called Belmont, it changed its name about 100 years ago from California (to Belmont). This could be the origin of the state name.
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King George II didn't "chart" the colony of Georgia. He "chartered" it. That is, he didn't draw a map with it on it, he wrote the document that declared its legal existence as an English colony.
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They originally considered naming Washington 'Columbia' but decided against it so that it wouldn't be confused with the District of Columbia. Oh the irony.
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As usual, Uncle John is full of it. "Missouri" is NOT the Algonquin word for "muddy water." It means "people with big canoes" & was the name given the Missouri tribe by their enemies, the Fox tribe of Algonquins. The Missouris themselves, who were a branch of the Sioux, called the river Nishodse, which does mean "muddy water."
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Washington State wasn't named after George Washington, but is derived from the Tlingit word Oweas-in-tong, which means "first president."

But I could be wrong.
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No, Louisiana was named JUST for King Louis XIV - no Anna was involved...that's just a myth that has been passed around for years.

Here's a link to the Louisiana Secretary of State's website:
http://www.sos.louisiana.gov/around/brief/brief-1.htm

Look at the third paragraph, "1682 The French explorer Sieur de La Salle, the first to descend the Mississippi to its mouth, took possession "of the country known as Louisiana," and named it for the reigning monarch of France, Louis XIV. "
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For a country who was so bloodthirsty in killing off the Native Americans, we really do owe them a lot of gratitude for naming our states.
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Arkansas was a big error. The French were traveling with a Native American from Illinois or somewhere like that. They get down here, the French are like, "Who are they?" The out-of-territory Native American is like, "They're the Arkansa (Down-Stream People)." The French men say, "Okay. Hello, Arkansa!" and the Arkansan Native Americans were like, "Dude, we're the Quapaw." But the French were like, "No, you're savage Arkansa!" And that's my codensed Arkansas history lesson for today.
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About Colorado: The author is right it does "tend" to mean red. The word can mean colorful (as others have stated), not relating specifically red. However, when used without any other context, it does generally imply that the color is red.

Uds gringos se creen muy inteligentes.

And while no one is sure about Arizona; it is not Latin. Pima is a commonly tossed about idea.
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Goergia is one of the mag triplets.Alabama and mississippi are the others.if you look at minnesota, iowa,missouri,arkansas, and louisiana, you will see an elf.thats all for now try to look at wisconsin and new york, you will see the elfs (mimal) dogs.
P.S.the elfs names is Mimal.
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