When Word People go on a road trip, they look at road signs.
Looking at road signs leads to questions, such as:
- “Why do they call that state ‘Connecticut’ anyway?”
- “If there is a New Hampshire, surely there must be an Old Hampshire somewhere?”
Never fear … your answers are here! (Well, most of them on this particular topic, at least.)
Alabama: From Alabama River by early European explorers and named “Alibamu” after the local Native American tribe
Alaska: Corruption of Aleut word meaning “great land” or “that which the sea breaks against”
Arizona: Uncertain, perhaps from the O’odham word for “little spring”
Arkansas: From the Quapaw tribe
California: From a book, Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, c. 1500
Colorado: From the Spanish, “ruddy” or “red”
Connecticut: From a Quinnehtukqut word 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 of unknown meaning
Illinois: Algonquin for “tribe of superior men”
Indiana: Meaning “land of Indians”
Iowa: From the Iowa River which was named after the Ioway 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: The name was 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 the Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, meaning “at or about the great hill”
Michigan: From a Native American word “Michigana” meaning “great or large lake”
Minnesota: From a Dakota word meaning “sky-tinted water”
Mississippi: From a Native American word meaning “Father of Waters”
Missouri: The state is named after the Missouri tribe. “Missouri” means “town of the large canoes.”
Montana: From the Spanish word meaning “mountain”
Nebraska: From an Oto word meaning “flat water”
Nevada: In 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 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.
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: The word is of Cherokee origin; the exact meaning is unknown.
Texas: From a Native American 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 a Native American word whose meaning is disputed
Wyoming: From the Delaware tribe word meaning “mountains and valleys alternating;” the same as the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania
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