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Origin of State Names

Alabama From Alabama River by early European explorers and named "Alibamu" after the local Indian tribe
Alaska Corruption of Aleut word meaning “great land” or “that which the sea breaks against”
Arizona Uncertain. Perhaps from the O'odham Indian word for “little spring”
Arkansas From the Quapaw Indians
California From a book, Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, c. 1500
Colorado From the Spanish, “ruddy” or “red”
Connecticut From an Indian word (Quinnehtukqut) meaning “beside the long tidal river”
Delaware From Delaware River and Bay; named in turn for Sir Thomas West, Baron De La Warr
Florida From the Spanish Pascua Florida, meaning “feast of flowers” (Easter)
Georgia In honor of George II of England
Hawaii Uncertain. The islands may have been named by Hawaii Loa, their traditional discoverer. Or they may have been named after Hawaii or Hawaiki, the traditional home of the Polynesians.
Idaho An invented name whose meaning is unknown.
Illinois Algonquin for “tribe of superior men”
Indiana Meaning “land of Indians”
Iowa From the Iowa River which was named after the Ioway Indian tribe
Kansas From a Sioux word meaning “people of the south wind”
Kentucky From an Iroquoian word “Ken-tah-ten” meaning “land of tomorrow”
Louisiana In honor of Louis XIV of France
Maine 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 In honor of Henrietta Maria (queen of Charles I of England)
Massachusetts From Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, meaning “at or about the great hill”
Michigan From Indian word “Michigana” meaning “great or large lake”
Minnesota From a Dakota Indian word meaning “sky-tinted water”
Mississippi From an Indian word meaning “Father of Waters”
Missouri Named after the Missouri Indian tribe. “Missouri” means “town of the large canoes.”
Montana From the Spanish word meaning “mountain.”
Nebraska From an Oto Indian word meaning “flat water”
Nevada Spanish: “snowcapped”
New Hampshire From the English county of Hampshire
New Jersey From the Channel Isle of Jersey
New Mexico From Mexico, “place of Mexitli,” an Aztec god or leader
New York In honor of the Duke of York
North Carolina In honor of Charles I of England
North Dakota From the Sioux tribe, meaning “allies”
Ohio From an Iroquoian word meaning “great river”
Oklahoma From two Choctaw Indian words meaning “red people”
Oregon Unknown. However, it is generally accepted that the name, first used by Jonathan Carver in 1778, was taken from the writings of Maj. Robert Rogers, an English army officer.
Pennsylvania In honor of Adm. Sir William Penn, father of William Penn. It means “Penn's Woodland.”
Rhode Island From the Greek Island of Rhodes
South Carolina In honor of Charles I of England
South Dakota From the Sioux tribe, meaning “allies”
Tennessee Of Cherokee origin; the exact meaning is unknown
Texas From an Indian word meaning “friends”
Utah From the Ute tribe, meaning “people of the mountains”
Vermont From the French “vert mont,” meaning “green mountain”
Virginia In honor of Elizabeth “Virgin Queen” of England
Washington In honor of George Washington
West Virginia In honor of Elizabeth, “Virgin Queen” of England
Wisconsin French corruption of an Indian word whose meaning is disputed
Wyoming From the Delaware Indian word, meaning “mountains and valleys alternating”; the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

State Nicknames States Names of State Residents

More on Origin of State Names from Infoplease:

  • U.S. State Flags - Find an image of each flag of the fifty states of the United States of America.
  • Hawaii - Map of Hawaii & articles on flags, geography, history, statistics, disasters, and current events.
  • California - Map of California & articles on flags, geography, history, statistics, disasters, and current events.
  • Georgia - Map of Georgia & articles on flags, geography, history, statistics, disasters, and current events.
  • Florida - Map of Florida & articles on flags, geography, history, statistics, disasters, and current events.

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