Each of America’s 50 states is different.
The weather, landscapes, people, beliefs and even timezones are different depending on which part of the huge country you land in.
But how did each of the states get its name?
Some are named after landmarks, explorers or famous people at the time – including a few English kings and queen.
We’ve had a look through the origin of each of them, and there are some very interesting tales in there.
Alabama is viewed as a tribal name.
It’s thought to be a merge of two Choctaw words ‘Alba’ and ‘Amo’ translating to ‘vegetation gatherers’.
This is appropriate as Alabama Indians cleared land for agricultural purposes. It’s commonly nicknamed the “Heart of Dixie” after its central role in the south’s history.
Alaska is of Russian origin.
It was translated by the Russians as an object to which the sea is directed, the peninsular. It’s distance from the other states labels it as “America’s Last Frontier”.
Arizona’s source and meaning is controversial amongst historians.
Some argue it derives from the spanish word “Arizonac”, which was based on the native american phrase “Place of the Small Spring”. Others view it as a basque word meaning “The Good Oak Tree”
Arkansas originated from the Quapaw Indians.
There was controversy as to how it was pronounced and in 1881 the state’s General Assembly declared it would be spelled ‘Arkansas’ but pronounced ‘Arkansaw’. This was done in order to preserve the memory of Indians initially inhabiting the area.
California is named after a popular 16th-century romance novel.
Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo’s Spanish romance novel, Las sergas de Esplandian is said to have inspired early Spanish explorers to name the area after the island described in the novel.
However, some argue that it was named after “calida fornax” *(hot furnace).
Colorado is named after the Colorado River.
Colorado derives from the Spanish ‘ruddy’ or ‘red’. Spanish explorers named a river they found “Rio Colorado” translating to “coloured red”.
Connecticut is named after the Connecticut River.
Connecticut’s name was established in the 1600s after the Connecticut River. It was translated from the Alonquian word “Quinnehtukqut” meaning ‘beside the long tidal river’.
Delaware is named after the Delaware River.
The state as well as the Indians inhabiting it were both named after the Delaware River. The river was named after Virginia Company’s first governor, Sir Thomas West.
Ponce de Leon gave Florida’s name two possible origins.
Spanish explorer is said to have discovered Florida and named it “La Florida” (full of flowers) when attempting to find the Fountain of Youth.
It was believed that drinking or bathing in the fountain’s water would restore youth to all.
Another theory is that Ponce de Leon discovered the area on Palm Sunday and named it “Pascua Florida” (flowering Easter).
Georgia is named after England’s King George II.
After the state was colonised in 1732, Georgia was named after King George II in 1733.
Hawaii was discovered by Hawaii Loa.
On theory is that its name is a combination of ‘hawa’ and ‘ii’ meaning a small or new homeland. Additionally, it was named after the initial discoverer Hawaii Loa.
Idaho was named by mining lobbyist George M Willing.
George M Willing presented the name Idaho to congress on the basis that it was a Shoshone Indian word meaning “Gem of the Mountains”.
The word’s origin was exposed to have been made up by Willing but the name had already become common.
Illinois is named after the Illinois River.
French explorer Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle named the river after he found Indians along the banks. Illinois is the Indian word for “iliniwok” meaning warrior, referring to members of the Illinois tribe.
Indiana is latin for “Land of the Indians”
Indiana was the name given by the US Congress when the area was created from the Northwest territory. It means “land of the Indians”.
Iowa is named after the Iowa River.
Iowa was named after the Iowa River, which was named after the Iowa Indians living in the area. The tribal name was “Ayuxwa” meaning !one who puts to sleep”.
Kansas is named after the Kansa Indians.
The name Kansas comes from the sioux tribe, the Kansa people.
Kentucky is of native American origin.
The name is of native American origin and is associated with several languages and meanings.
One of the possible meanings is the Iroquois word “ken-tah-ten”, which means “land of tomorrow”.
Louisiana was named by explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier.
In the mid 1600s Rene-Robert Cavelier named the area Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV of France.
The original Louisiana territory is now divided between 13 states and translated to “Land of Louis”.
Maine is a nautical term.
The nautical theory proposes that Maine’s name is based on the fact that the state is on the mainland.
A popular but academically rejected theory is that Captain John Mason chose the name to honour King Charles’ wife. She was the owner of the French province of Maine.
Maryland is named after Queen Henrietta Maria.
England’s King Charles I named the new colony Maryland after his wife Queen Henrietta Maria (Queen Mary).
Massachusetts is named after the Massachusetts Indian tribe.
It’s an Algonquin Indian word roughly translating to “at the great hill”.
It refers to the Great Blue Hill in Milton, called Massachusetts, an active volcano.
Michigan is named after Lake Michigan.
Michigan is derived from the Chippewa Indian word ‘majigan’ meaning clearing.
European explorers named Lake Michigan after this in the 1670s and the states’ name followed.
Minnesota acquired its name from the Minnesota River.
Titled by the Dakota tribe, Minnesota translates to “sky-tinted water”.
The name is suited to the state known as the “land of the 10,000 lakes”.
Mississippi is named after the Mississippi River.
The Chippewa Indians named the Mississippi river with it translating to “large river”. The state was named after this.
Missouri means “town of the large canoes”.
The native America Sioux of the state, the Missouris, formed the states’ name.
It directly translates to the “town of the large canoes”.
Montana refers to the Spanish word “montana”.
Montana translates to mountains and the term was applied due to Western Montana being part of the Rocky Mountain range.
Nebraska is named after the Platte River.
The Platte river gained its name from 2 different origins – the French meaning ‘flat river’ and the Omaha Indians calling the river “ibôápka” meaning ‘broad river’.
Nevada is named after a Spanish mountain range.
The states’ name derives from the Spanish “Sierra Nevada” translating to snow-covered mountain range.
New Hampshire is named after an English county.
Captain John Mason named the state after Hampshire in England.
New Jersey is named after an English island.
The state was named after English Channel island Jersey in honour of Sir George Carteret.
New Mexico was named 223 years before the country of Mexico.
Spanish settlers named New Mexico after the Aztec valley of the rio Grande river in Mexico. It the native American Nahuatl language Mexico translates to the “place of Mexitli”, an aztec God.
New York is the name of the state and the city.
The state was originally called “New Amsterdam” when the dutch had control before England took over. The British named it after the Duke of York and Albany (King Charles II’s brother), naming it New York.
Both North and South Carolina are named after Charles IX of France as well as Charles I and II of England.
Carolina has Latin roots and comes from the word ‘carolinus’. This word is derived from the name ‘Carolus’, which translates as Charles.
Both North and South Dakota are named after the Sioux tribe in the region.
North and South Dakota were one territory until 1889. Dakota is the sioux word for “allies”.
Ohio is named after the Ohio River.
The name Ohio was first applied to the states’ river and it originates from the Iroquois word for “good river”. Later translation by the French labelled it as “La Belle Riviere”.
Oklahoma is a native American tribal name.
The states’ name is based on the native American Choctaw words “okla humma’ translating as “red people”. It name began with Spanish explorer Coronado in 1541.
Oregon’s name origin is unknown.
One theory is that it derives from the Spanish word “oregano”, the wild sage that grows in the eastern areas of the state. Another is that it comes from the Spanish word “orejon” meaning big ear- a term applied to indian tribes in the area.
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Pennsylvania means “Penn’s woods” or “Penn’s lands”.
Quaker William Penn named the area Pensyllvania in honour of William Penn’s father (Admiral Sir William Penn).
Rhode Island was named by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.
This was due to the similarities the area had with the Greek Island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean.
Another theory is that Dutch explorer Adriaen Block called it Roodt Eylandt” meaning “red island”. This was because of its similarity the Greek island’s red clay.
Tennessee was named after the little Tennessee River.
Two Chereokee villages on the rivers’ banks originally named the river “Tanasi”.
Texas is derived from the native American Caddo language’s word, “Teyshas”.
In the 1540s Spanish explorers recorded the word as “tejas” thinking it was a tribal name.
Utah originates from the Apache Indian word “yuttahih”.
“Yuttahih” means people of the mountains. Europeans referred to it as the land of the Utes, and gradually Utah.
Vermont means “green mountain”.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain called the states’ mountains “Verd Mont” meaning green mountains. Vermont is the English form of the name.
Virginia was named after England’s Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I was known as the Virgin Queen and the states’ name was in honour of her.
Washington was named in honour of George Washington.
George Washington was the first president of the USA and his portrait appears on the state flag.
West Virginia was also named after England’s Queen Elizabeth I.
The state was originally set to be called “Kanawha” and is formed of the Virginia counties who voted to form a new state.
Wisconsin means “river running through a red place”.
Wisconsin historical societies’ theory is that it’s named after the Wisconsin River. Michael McCafferty argued that the “red place” referred to the red sandstone bluffs of the Wisconsin Dells.
European explorer Jacques Marquette referred to the Wisconsin river as “Meskousing” in his 1673 journal.
Today’s pronunciation was born when explorer Rene Robert Cavelier misread Marquettes letter “M” for “Ou” and printed “Ouisconsin” onto maps.
This incorrect spelling and pronunciation became commonplace. Throughout the 1812 war, soldiers began to introduce the spelling with a “W” and the current day state “Wisconsin”.
Wyoming is named after Wyoming Valley.
Its name originates from the Dakota word “mscheweamiing”, meaning “at the big flats” or “large plains”. Legh Freeman claims he was the first to suggest the name Wyoming as apart of the Dakota territory.
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