The Literal Translation of Every State Name
Royals, homelands, and Native American words are just some of the inspirations behind state names.
For a long time, many believed “Alabama” meant “Here we rest” in the native Muskogee language, but that has been disproven—more or less. Linguistic scholars now believe the name comes from the Choctaw alba (meaning “plants” or “weeds”) and amo (meaning “to cut,” “to trim,” or “to gather”). In all likelihood, the state was named for its agricultural roots, in particular, vegetable farming.
The largest of the United States, Alaska’s name comes from the Aleut word, “Aleyska,” which means “great land,” according to the Government of Alaska’s website. The Aleuts have been living in the land that is now known as Alaska since about 10,000 BCE when it was physically connected to Russia via the Bering Land Bridge.
The meaning of the name “Arizona” is subject to debate. Some say it means “Place of Little Spring” (from the Native American word, “al shon”). Others believe it means “The Good Oak Tree” from the Basque word meaning the same. Both interpretations seem equally likely based on Arizona’s history. And if you think anyone agreeing on anything is a first, check out these historical firsts from every state.
The word “Arkansas” came from the Quapaw Indians, by way of early French explorers, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State. It means “south wind,” a reference to the Quapaws, who were known as “people who live downstream.”
The name “California” means “the land ruled by Califa.” The name came about through a combination of mistake and mythology: the first Spanish explorers to discover the land believed it to be an island. So 16th-century mapmakers gave it the romantic name, California, in honor of the book, Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, a tale about California, a mythical island ruled by Queen Califa. Test your mettle to see if you’re more geographically savvy than those first Spanish explorers.
The meaning of the name “Colorado” derives from the Spanish phrase for “colored red.” There is some debate over where that phrase came from; some say it refers to the red silt of the Colorado River from which the state is thought to have gotten its name. Others point out that the Colorado River was known as the Grand River until 1921 long after Colorado became a state in 1876. Their theory is that the state took its name from Colorado City (now Colorado Springs), which is situated close to the state’s famed red rocks.
Connecticut takes its name from the Connecticut River, which was named for the native Algonquin word meaning “land on the long tidal river,” according to History. You’ll never guess what lies behind these doors in Putnam, Connecticut…or any of these other secret places in each state.
The name “Delaware” is a tribute to the very first governor of Virginia, Thomas West, the Lord De La Warr. In 1610, the explorer Samuel Argall named the body of water that is now the Delaware River for Governor De La Warr, and the state later got its name from the river.
Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first landed on what would become the Sunshine State in the spring of 1513. He named the area “Pascua Florida,” literally “Feast of Flowers,” a Spanish holiday related to Easter. Today, April 2 is celebrated as Pascua Florida Day to commemorate de Leon’s landing. From flowers to birds to spectacular architecture, don’t miss these secret gems in each state.
Georgia was named for King George II, who granted the charter to establish the colony in 1732. Georgia is the name “George” with the Greek suffix “ia” that means “state of” tacked onto the end.