Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Etymology of U.S. State Names, Part 1

The United States is often referred to as a "melting pot" of cultures since it is the product of immigration from countries all over the world. As a result, the U.S. is incredibly diverse and multicultural in terms of everything from food to religion.

Since our focus is on language, we thought we'd take a look at the etymologies of U.S. state names, which come from about a dozen different languages. To keep things simple, we'll start with Alabama and go through the states alphabetically.

Alabama is named after the Alabama people, a Native American group that originally lived in the area. Some historians think the word might have originated in Choctaw, a related indigenous language, while others believe it comes from the Alabama language.

Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest
mountain peak in North America. It is located in Alaska.
Alaska comes from an idiom for "mainland" in Aleut, the language of the Aleut indigenous group. The literal translation of the idiom is "the object to which the action of the sea is directed".

Arizona's name definitely made its way into English via the Spanish language, but its language of origin is unclear. Two potential candidates are O'odham, a Native American language, and Basque, a language isolate native to Spain and France.

Arkansas and Kansas are both derived from the same term in Kansa, an indigenous language used by the Kaw (or Kansa) tribe. Since both words made their way into English via French, it makes sense that the final 's' in Arkansas is silent, although there was enough disagreement regarding its pronunciation back in the 1880s that an official resolution was passed to settle the matter.

California and Colorado both originated in Spanish. California comes from the "Island of California", a fictional paradise separate from the mainland United States that was even included on maps in the 1500s and 1600s. Colorado, on the other hand, gets its name from colorado, meaning "ruddy" or "red", a reference to the Colorado River.

Connecticut's name comes from Mohegan, an Algonquin language, and refers to a "long tidal river".

Delaware was also named after a river, the Delaware River, which was named after Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. He was governor of the Colony of Virginia when European settlers first explored the river.

Florida was first discovered by the Spanish during Pascua Florida, a term that was used to refer to the Easter season. The word florida means "flowery".

Georgia was named after King George II of Great Britain, the current ruler when it was established as a colony.

Haleakalā, a volcano on the Hawaiian Island of Maui.
Hawaii's name comes from Hawaiian, the Austronesian language indigenous to the island. It may have been named for Hawai'iloa, who according to legend discovered and first settled the island.

Idaho is a bit of a mystery, but the term was likely created by a lobbyist named George M. Willing in the 1860s, who suggested using it for a new territory being organized in the area. For a while, he claimed it came from the indigenous Shoshone language, but later said that he'd invented it himself.

Illinois comes from the French name used for the Illiniwek, a group of Native American tribes that lived in the area.

Indiana is actually derived from Latin, meaning "Land of the Indians".

Iowa is named after the Ioway, a Native American tribe that once lived in the state.

Kansas shares its origins with Arkansas, which we mentioned above!

Kentucky's etymology is uncertain, but it most likely comes from an Iroquoian language. The name was first applied to the Kentucky River.

Since there are so many states to cover, we'll be back on Friday and the following Monday with more state name etymologies!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3