Monday, May 2, 2016

The Etymology of U.S. State Names, Part 3

Our last two posts have been dedicated to exploring the history of U.S. state names, from Alabama to Kentucky and Louisiana to North Dakota. Today we're finally finishing up the rest of the 50 states, starting with Ohio!

Ohio is named after the Ohio River, which got its name from Seneca, a Native American language.

Oklahoma's name is derived from a Choctaw term meaning "red people". The name was actually suggested by a Choctaw chief in the 1860s, who hoped that the area would end up being a territory belonging to Native American groups. Instead, it became the 46th state in 1907.

Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania house designed
by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935.
Oregon's origins are a bit of a mystery. The name might come from Spanish, French, or a Native American language, but nobody's really sure.

Pennsylvania is named after Admiral William Penn, the father of the more famous William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. The word itself means "Penn's woods", and is derived from a combination of the Welsh name Penn and the Latin word silvania, meaning "woods".

Rhode Island's name is a bit misleading since the majority of the state is on the mainland, though it does include several islands. There are two theories as to the origins of its name. The first is that it was named by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano due to its resemblance to the Greek island of Rhodes. The second theory is that Dutch navigator Adriaen Block passed by Aquidneck Island (the largest island included in the state's borders), and called it the Dutch equivalent of "red island".

South Carolina and South Dakota have the same origins as their northern counterparts, with South Carolina being named after King Charles I of England and South Dakota being named after a Lakota term meaning "ally".

Tennessee gets its name from the Cherokee town of Tanasi, which was located in present-day Tennessee.

Texas' name comes from the Caddo word "friend". It made its way into the English language via Spanish after Spanish colonists ended up using the word to refer to the Caddo tribe itself.

Utah also made its way into English via Spanish, and is derived from the name of the Ute tribe.

Vermont is derived from French, a combination of the words vert and mont, meaning "green mountain".

Virginia is yet another state named after a famous ruler: Queen Elizabeth I of England, also known as the "Virgin Queen".

Seattle, Washington.
Washington is named after the country's first president, George Washington. Oddly enough, it was originally part of the Columbia District, but its name was changed to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia. Of course, the District of Columbia is better known as Washington, D.C., so it really didn't solve any problems at all.

West Virginia, unsurprisingly, has the same linguistic origins as Virginia. During the Civil War, the western part of the state decided to separate from Virginia and join the Union.

Wisconsin's name comes from an indigenous term for the Wisconsin River, perhaps Meskonsing, from the Miami language. Eventually it became Ouisconsin in French, though the spelling was eventually changed by English speakers.

Wyoming, the very last state (alphabetically), is named after the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, which was referred to in a famous 1809 poem called Gertrude of Wyoming. Originally, the word came from the Munsee language, spoken by a Native American tribe that lived along the Delaware River.

If you're still interested in learning more about the languages behind US place names, you can also check out a couple of posts we wrote last year.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3