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Origins of State Names

Alabama: Choctaw word for a Chickasaw tribe. First noted in accounts of Hernando De Soto expedition.
Alaska: Russian version of Aleutian (Eskimo) word, alakshak for "peninsula," "great lands," or "land that is not an island."
Arizona: Spanish version of Pima Indian word for "little spring place" or Aztec arizuma, meaning "silver-bearing."
Arkansas: Algonquin name for the Quapaw Indians, meaning "south wind."
California: Bestowed by Spanish conquistadors (possibly by Hérnan Cortés). It was the name of an imaginary island in the 1510 Spanish novel Las Serges de Esplandián, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The Spanish first visited Baja (Lower) California in 1533. The present-day U.S. state was called Alta (Upper) California.
Colorado: From Spanish for "red," first applied to Colorado River.
Connecticut: From Mohican and other Algonquin words meaning "long river place."

Delaware: Named for Lord De La Warr, early governor of Virginia; first applied to river, then to Indian tribe (Lenni-Lenape).
District of Columbia: For Christopher Columbus, 1791.
Florida: Named by Juan Ponce de León Pascua Florida, "Flowery Easter," on Easter Sunday, 1513.
Georgia: Named by colonial administrator James Oglethorpe for King George II of England in 1732.
Hawaii: Possibly derived from Hawaiki or Owhyhee, Polynesian word for "homeland."
Idaho: Said to be a coined name with the invented meaning "gem of the mountains"; suggested for the Pikes Peak mining territory (Colorado), then applied to the new mining territory of the Pacific Northwest. Another theory suggests Idaho may be Kiowa Apache term for the Comanche.
Illinois: French for Illini or "land of Illini," Algonquin word meaning "men" or "warriors."
Indiana: Means "land of the Indians."
Iowa: Indian word variously translated as "here I rest" or "beautiful land." Named for the Iowa River, which was named for the Iowa Indians.
Kansas: Sioux word for "south wind people."
Kentucky: Indian word variously translated as "dark and bloody ground," "meadowland," and "land of tomorrow."
Louisiana: Part of territory called Louisiana by René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle for French King Louis XIV.
Maine: From Maine, ancient French province. Also descriptive, referring to the mainland as distinct from coastal islands.
Maryland: For Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England.
Massachusetts: From Indian tribe whose name meant "at or about the Great Hill" in Blue Hills region south of Boston.
Michigan: From Chippewa words mici gama, meaning "great water," after lake of the same name.
Minnesota: From Dakota Sioux word meaning "cloudy water" or "sky-tinted water" of the Minnesota River.
Mississippi: Probably Chippewa mici zibi, meaning "great river" or "gathering-in of all the waters." Also Algonquin word messipi.
Missouri: Algonquin Indian term meaning "river of the big canoes."
Montana: Latin or Spanish for "mountainous."
Nebraska: From Omaha or Otos Indian word meaning "broad water" or "flat river," describing the Platte River.
Nevada: Spanish, meaning "snow-clad."
New Hampshire: Named by Capt. John Mason of Plymouth Council, in 1629, for his home county in England.
New Jersey: The Duke of York, 1664, gave a patent to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret for Nova Caesaria, or New Jersey, after England’s Isle of Jersey.
New Mexico: Spaniards in Mexico applied term to land north and west of Rio Grande in the 16th century.
New York: For James, Duke of York and Albany, who received patent for New Netherland from his brother Charles II and sent an expedition to capture it, 1664.
North & South Carolina: In 1619, Charles I gave patent to Sir Robert Heath for Province of Carolana, fromCarolus, Latin name for Charles. Charles II granted a new patent to Earl of Clarendon and others. Divided into North and South Carolina, 1710.
North & South Dakota: Sioux word Dakota, meaning "friend" or "ally."
Ohio: Iroquois word for "fine or good river."
Oklahoma: Choctaw word meaning "red man," proposed by Rev. Allen Wright, Choctaw-speaking Indian.
Oregon: Origin unknown. One theory is that the name derives from wauregan, meaning "beautiful," term used by Indians in New England.
Pennsylvania: William Penn, Quaker who was made full proprietor of area by King Charles II in 1681, suggested "Sylvania," or "woodland," for his tract. The king’s government owed 16,000 pounds to Penn’s father, Adm. William Penn, and the land was granted as partial settlement. Charles II added "Penn" to "Sylvania," against the modest proprietor's desires, in honor of the admiral.
Rhode Island: Origin unknown. One theory notes that Giovanni de Verrazano recorded observing an island about the size of the Greek island of Rhodes in 1524. Another theory is that Dutch explorer Adriaen Block named the state Roode Eylandt for its red clay.
Tennessee: Tanasi was the name of Cherokee villages on the Little Tennessee River. From 1784 to 1788, this was the State of Franklin, or Frankland.
Texas: Variant of word used by Caddo and other Indians meaning "friends" or "allies" and applied to them by the Spanish in eastern Texas. Also written Texias, Tejas, Tey­sas.
Utah: From a Navajo word meaning "upper," or "higher up," as applied to Shoshone tribe called Ute. Proposed name De­seret, "land of honeybees," from Book of Mormon, was rejected by Congress.
Vermont: From French words vert (green) and mont (mountain). The Green Mountains were said to have been named by Samuel de Champlain. When the state was formed in 1777, Dr. Thomas Young suggested combining vert and mont.
Virginia: Named by Sir Walter Raleigh, who outfitted an expedition of 1584, in honor of England's Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.
Washington: Named after George Washington. When the bill creating the Territory of Columbia was introduced in the 32nd Congress, its name was changed to Washington because of the existence of the District of Columbia.
West Virginia: So named when western counties of Virginia refused to secede from the U.S. in 1863.
Wisconsin: Indian name, spelled Ouisconsin or Mesconsing by early chroniclers, believed to mean "grassy place" in Chippewa. Congress made it Wisconsin.
Wyoming: From Algonquin words for "large prairie place," "at the big plains," or "on the great plain."


Source: State officials; Smithsonian Institution; Topographic Division, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Dept. of the Interior
Tags: random facts
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