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Here Are The Meanings Behind All 50 State Names

Here's your chance to admit without being embarrassed if you have absolutely no idea what your state's name means.

It's a funny thing, but you can live somewhere your whole life and never think to ask what its name means. Or maybe you have the wrong idea, and get a shock when you learn where the name really comes from.

Check your state to find out what you've been missing all these years!

Alabama

"Alabama" originally referred to the native people who lived along what we call the Alabama River today. The exact meaning of the name isn't clear, but it's something close to "herb gatherers" or "clearers of thickets."

There's a popular claim that it means "here we rest," but this was actually invented by a newspaper in the 1840s.

Alaska

The name Alaska was first given to the territory by Russians, but taken from a native language (it's unclear which one). The word means "mainland," or "object to which the action of the sea is directed" if you want to be literal.

Arizona

A native word for "small spring," alĭ ṣonak morphed into Arissona over time as Spanish settlers moved in. Some still believe it could be from the Basque phrase aritz ona, or "the good oak."

Arkansas

Ever wonder why this is pronounced differently than Kansas? That state takes its name from the Kansa tribe, while the native word akakaze gave Arkansas its name. There's still a mystery: was it the Quapaw meaning of akakaze, "land of the downriver people," or the Sioux meaning, "people of the south wind?" We're still trying to sort that out.

California

In 1510 Spanish writer Garci Rodriquez de Montalvo wrote a fantasy-adventure story called Las Sergas de Esplandián, about a faraway land ruled by a queen named Calafia (based on the word caliph, a kind of Muslim religious leader). The idea of the distant island of California, full of gold and monsters, became common, so when Spanish explorers thought California was an island they gave it that name.

California was believed to be an island until the 1700s.Wikimedia

Colorado

Spanish settlers used the word colorado - "red colored" - to describe the territory and name locations in this state, including Colorado City and the Colorado River.

Connecticut

Connecticut means "long tidal river" in the Algonquian language, who originally called the territory "Quinnehtukqut."

Delaware

This state is named for the Baron de la Warr, the original governor of the colony of Virginia and the governor-general of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.

Baron de la WarrHistory.info

Florida

Florida was discovered during the Easter season by Spanish explorers. If you know your Spanish you might be wondering why it's not called pascua, the word we normally use for Easter. Pascua means both Easter and Christmas, so to avoid confusion they picked Florida ("flowering") instead.

Georgia

Georgia was named for King George II of Great Britain, but also in honor of Saint George, the patron saint of England. The name George comes from the Greek word georgos, for "farmer."

Click to the next page for more state name origins!

Hawaii

In Hawaiian myths, the home of the gods and the legendary country of the original Polynesian people is called Hawaiki, but there's another connection. The hero of Hawaiian legend who first discovers the islands is named Hawai'iloa.

Idaho

Idaho's name actually comes from a prank. George M. Willing, a doctor and politician, claimed Idaho meant "gem of the mountains" in a native language. Really, he made it up based off a woman he knew named Ida. Colorado was almost named Idaho, before folks there realized the truth, but apparently nobody in Idaho got the memo.

Still, some people argue that the Apache word ídaahę́ - "enemy" - is the actual inspiration for the name.

Illinois

Illinois is a French twist on the Algonquian word ilenweewa, meaning "speaks normally."

Indiana

Indiana is Latin for "land of the Indians."

Iowa

It's said that Iowa means "sleepy ones," but that's not actually clear. We do know it comes from the Dakota word ayúxba or ayuxwe, which became aiouez after French settlers arrived.

Kansas

Named for the local Kansa or Kaw tribe who settled around the Kansas River. The actual meaning of their name is obscure, but experts think it has something to do with the wind.

Kentucky

No one can agree on which word gradually became Kentucky, but it likely means something close to "on the prairie." One of the likely suspects is the Mohawk word kenhtàke, meaning "on the meadow."

Louisiana

Louisiana was French territory until it was purchased by the U.S. in 1803, which explains why settlers named it after King Louis XIV of France.

King Louis XIVBest Teenagers Ever

Maine

There are a few competing arguments about the origins of Maine's name. While there is a French province called Maine, the original colony was founded by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who was born in Broadmayne, England. Maine was settled by a mix of French and English colonists, so it's unclear who named it after what.

Maryland

Maryland was named for the wife of King Charles I of England when it was still an English province. She was named Henrietta Maria.

Charles I and Henrietta MariaV&A

Click to the next page for more state name origins!

Massachusetts

This state name is the plural of massachusett, and Algonquian word meaning "near the great hill." In this case it refers to the state's Great Blue Hill.

Michigan

The Ojibwe word mishigami means "large water," or "large lake." Lake Michigan fits the bill, so that's why this state got the name.

Lake MichiganThe Crazy Tourist

Minnesota

The Dakota word mnisota means "cloudy water," which is brutally honest way of describing the Minnesota River.

Mississippi

The Mississippi River got its name from misi-ziibi, the Ojibwe phrase for "great river," and later the state took it as well.

The Mississippi RiverBritannica

Missouri

Native tribes who lived along what we now call the Missouri River were called Mihsoori, which means "dugout canoe" in the Illinois language. That's because they were famous for rowing their canoes made from tree trunks down the river. The river eventually took their name, and so did the state.

Actors dressed in period costumes pilot a dugout canoe, made from a tree trunk.KCUR

Montana

It's no surprise that montaña is Spanish for mountains, the state is called "Big Sky Country" after all.

The Mission mountain range, as seen from Montana's National Bison Refuge.Wikimedia

Nebraska

Nebraska comes from the Chiwere word ñįbraske, which means "flattened water." The Platte River would often flood the plains alongside it, making it look like one big flat river.

The Platte river after flooding in 2010.USBR

Nevada

This state gets it's name from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sierra Nevada means "snow-covered mountains" in Spanish. It's funny, since you don't see much snow in Nevada aside from the mountain peaks.

The Sierra Nevada range.Summit Post

New Hampshire

Hampshire is one of the counties of England, and this state was named in its honor.

New Jersey

One of the state's founders, Sir George de Carteret, named it after his birthplace - the British island of Jersey. But there's an interesting twist: Jersey was first known as Caesarea, after Julius Caesar, and New Jersey was known as New Caesarea for some time. The state's name in Latin is still Nova Caesarea.

Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey, UK.Trip Advisor

Click to the next page for more state name origins!

New Mexico

Of course this state was named for the country of Mexico, and originally called Nuevo Mexico. The word Mexico comes from the name Nahuatl Mēxihca, the people who founded the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City).

New York

The state was named after the Duke of York, who went on to be king James II of England. Good thing they named it early enough, because "New James" doesn't have the same ring!

King James II - formerly the Duke of York.Wikimedia

North Carolina

In Latin, King Charles I of England would be named Carolus or Carolana, which became Carolina when the state was named in his honor.

King Charles I of England.Wikimedia

North Dakota

Dakhóta is a Sioux word meaning ally or friend.

Ohio

In the language of the Seneca tribe, ohiyo meant "large creek." Whether they were referring to the Ohio River or the Allegheny River, the name became associated with the territory.

Oklahoma

The name is a rough combination of the Choctaw words okla ("people or tribe") and homa ("red") that means "Indian territory."

Oregon

We know that Oregon was named by Major Robert Rogers, but the rest is a mystery. The territory was once called Oregano by the Spanish (because the herb of the same name grows there) and some towns in Spain are called Oregon. When Rogers submitted the name, he explained that it referred to a mythical river leading to the West. Another theory is that the name of the Ouisiconsink River was cut down because of printing errors on maps, giving a shorter, simpler name for the territory.

Pennsylvania

The name is a combination of Penn, after the colony's founder Sir William Penn, and sylvania, which means "woods" in Latin. So Pennsylvania means "Penn's woods."

Sir William Penn.City and State

Rhode Island

There are two theories for this state's name: Aquidneck Island might have been named roodt eylandt by the Dutch, which means "red island." It could also be named for the Greek island of Rhodes.

South Carolina

Like North Carolina, this state is named for King Charles I of England (after his Latin name Carolus or Carolana).

King Charles I of England.Wikimedia

Click to the next page for more state name origins!

South Dakota

Like North Dakota, this state gets it's name from the Sioux word for "friend," dakhóta.

Tennessee

The Cherokee village Tanasi provided the name for this state. As for what Tanasi means, no one knows.

Texas

The Spanish borrowed the Caddo word taysha for their own words tejas or texas, meaning "friends," which came to be the name for this state.

Utah

The Ute people of this state were called Yuta by the Spanish, and the name stuck.

Vermont

A combination of 2 French words gives us Vermont. Vert means "green," while mont is "mountain," so the state's name means "green mountain."

Virginia

This name is Latin for "country of the virgin," named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was called the Virgin Queen because she never married or had children.

Washington

You get no points for guessing that Washington is named after America's first president, George Washington. Washington's name is taken from an English town.

West Virginia

Like Virginia, this state is named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the Virgin Queen because she never married or had children. Virginia is Latin for "country of the virgin." West Virginia split from the rest of the state during the Civil War.

Wisconsin

The Miami Indian word meskonsing means "river running through a red place," after the state's red rocks and earth. Some claim it's actually based off the Ojibwe word miskwasiniing, which similarly means "red-stone place."

Wyoming

In the Lenape language, xwéwamənk meant "at the big flat river," but the river they were referring too was in Pennsylvania. That state's Wyoming Valley provided the name for this state.

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