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Map showing the source languages of state names

The fifty U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the five inhabited U.S. territories, and the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands have taken their names from a wide variety of languages. The names of 24 states derive from indigenous languages of the Americas and one from Hawaiian: eight come from Algonquian languages, seven from Siouan languages (one of those by way of Illinois, an Algonquian language), three from Iroquoian languages, one from a Uto-Aztecan language, and five from other Native American languages.

Twenty-two other state names derive from European languages: seven come from Latin (mostly from Latinate forms of English personal names, one coming from Welsh), five from English, five from Spanish (and one more from an Indigenous language by way of Spanish), and four from French (one of these by way of English). The etymologies of six states are disputed or unclear: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, and Rhode Island (in the table below, those states have one row for each potential source language or meaning).

Of the fifty states, eleven are named after an individual person. Of those eleven, seven are named in honor of European monarchs: the two Carolinas, the two Virginias, Maryland, Louisiana, and Georgia. Over the years, several attempts have been made to name a state after one of the Founding Fathers or other great statesmen of U.S. history: the State of Franklin, the State of Jefferson (three separate attempts), the State of Lincoln (two separate attempts), and the State of Washington; in the end, only Washington materialized (Washington Territory was carved out of the Columbia District, and was renamed Washington in order to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia, which contains the city of Washington).

Several of the states that derive their names from (corrupted) names used for Native peoples have retained the plural ending of “s”: Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Texas. One common naming pattern has been as follows:

Native tribal group → River → Territory → State

State names

State name Language of origin Word(s) in original language Meaning and notes
Map of USA AL.svg
Choctaw albah amo “Thicket-clearers” or “plant-cutters”, from albah, “(medicinal) plants”, and amo, “to clear”. The modern Choctaw name for the tribe is Albaamu.
Map of USA AK.svg
Aleut via Russian alaxsxaq via Аляска (Alyaska) “Mainland” (literally “the object towards which the action of the sea is directed”).
Map of USA AZ.svg
Basque aritz ona “The good oak”.
O’odham via Spanish ali ṣona-g via Arizonac “Having a little spring”.
Map of USA AR.svg
Kansa via Illinois and French akaansa Borrowed from a French spelling of an Illinois rendering of the tribal name kką:ze (see Kansas, below), which the Miami and Illinois used to refer to the Quapaw.
Map of USA CA.svg
Spanish Unknown Probably named for the fictional Island of California ruled by Queen Calafia in the 16th-century novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

See also: Etymology of California

Map of USA CO.svg
Spanish colorado “Ruddy” or “red”, originally referring to the Colorado River.
Map of USA CT.svg
Eastern Algonquian quinnitukqut From some Eastern Algonquian language of southern New England (perhaps Mahican), meaning “at the long tidal river”, after the Connecticut River. The name reflects Proto-Eastern-Algonquian *kwən-, “long”; *-əhtəkw, “tidal river”; and *-ənk, the locative suffix).
Map of USA DE.svg
French via English de la Warr After the Delaware River, which was named for Lord de la Warr (originally probably Norman French de la guerre or de la werre, “of the war”). Lord de la Warr was the first Governor-General of the Colony of Virginia.
Map of USA FL.svg
Spanish (pascua) florida “Flowery (Easter)” (to distinguish it from Christmastide, which was also called Pascua), in honor of its discovery by the Spanish during the Easter season.
Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia
Map of USA GA.svg
Latin via English (ultimately from Greek) Georgius The feminine Latin form of “George”, named after King George II of Great Britain. It was also a reference to Saint George, whose name was derived from the Greek word georgos meaning “husbandman” or “farmer” from ge “earth” + ergon “work”.
Map of USA HI.svg
Hawaiian Hawaiʻi From Hawaiki, legendary homeland of the Polynesians. Hawaiki is believed to mean “place of the gods”.
Named for Hawaiʻiloa, legendary discoverer of the Hawaiian Islands.
Map of USA ID.svg
none Idaho Probably made up by George M. “Doc” Willing as a practical joke; originally claimed to have been derived from a word in a Native American language that meant “Gem of the Mountains”. The name was initially proposed for the Territory of Colorado until its origins were discovered. Years later it fell into common usage, and was proposed for the Territory of Idaho instead.
Plains Apache ídaahę́ Possibly from the Plains Apache word for “enemy” (ídaahę́), which was used to refer to the Comanches.
Map of USA IL.svg
Algonquian via French ilenweewa The state is named for the French adaptation of an Algonquian language (perhaps Miami) word apparently meaning “speaks normally” (cf. Miami ilenweewa, Old Ottawa <ilinoüek>, Proto-Algonquian *elen-, “ordinary”, and -we·, “to speak”), referring to the Illiniwek (Illinois).
Map of USA IN.svg
Latin (ultimately from Proto-Indo-Iranian) “Land of the Indians”. The names “Indians” and “India” come, via Greek and Persian, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sindhu-, which originally referred to the Indus River.
Map of USA IA.svg
Dakota via French ayúxba / ayuxwe via Aiouez By way of French Aiouez, and named after the Iowa tribe. This demonym has no further known etymology, though some give it the meaning “sleepy ones”.
Map of USA KS.svg
Kansa via French kką:ze via Cansez Named after the Kansas River, which in turn was named after the Kaw or Kansas tribe. The name seems to be connected to the idea of “wind”.
Map of USA KY.svg
Iroquoian Originally referring to the Kentucky River. While some sources say the etymology is uncertain,most agree on a meaning of “(on) the meadow” or “(on) the prairie” (cf. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca gëdá’geh (phonemic /kẽtaʔkeh/), “at the field”).
Map of USA LA.svg
French (ultimately from Frankish) Louisiane After King Louis XIV of France. The name Louis itself came from Frankish hluda, “heard of, famous” (cf. loud) + wiga, “war”.
Map of USA ME.svg
English main A common historical etymology is that the name refers to the mainland, as opposed to the coastal islands.
French After the French province of Maine.
English A more recent proposal is that the state was named after the English village of Broadmayne, which was the family estate of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the colony’s founder.
Map of USA MD.svg
English (ultimately from Hebrew) Myriam After Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England. The name Mary originally meant in Hebrew “bitterness” or “rebelliousness”, and could also have come from Egyptian “beloved” or “love”.
Map of USA MA.svg
Algonquian muswach8sut Plural of muswach8sut meaning “Near the great little-mountain” or “at the great hill”, which is usually identified as Great Blue Hill on the border of Milton and Canton, Massachusetts (cf. the Narragansett name Massachusêuck).
Map of USA MI.svg
Ojibwe via French mishigami “Large water” or “large lake” (in Old Algonquin, *meshi-gami).
Map of USA MN.svg
Dakota mnisota “Cloudy water”, referring to the Minnesota River.
Map of USA MS.svg
Ojibwe via French misi-ziibi “Great river”, after the Mississippi River.
Map of USA MO.svg
Illinois via French mihsoori “Dugout canoe”. The Missouri tribe was noteworthy among the Illinois for their dugout canoes, and so was referred to as the wimihsoorita, “one who has a wood boat [dugout canoe]”.
Map of U.S. - MT.svg
Spanish montaña “Mountain”.
Map of USA NE.svg
Chiwere ñįbraske “Flattened water”, after the Platte River, which used to be known as the Nebraska River. Due to the flatness of the plains, flooding of the river would inundate the region with a flat expanse of water.
Map of USA NV.svg
Spanish nevado “Snow-covered”, after the Sierra Nevada (“snow-covered mountains”).
New Hampshire
Map of USA NH.svg
English (ultimately from Old English) After the county of Hampshire in England, whose name is derived from the original name for its largest city, Southampton, that being Hamtun, which is an Old English word that roughly translates to “Village-Town”.
New Jersey
Map of USA NJ.svg
French (ultimately from Old Norse) After Jersey, the largest of the British Channel Islands and the birthplace of one of the colony’s two co-founders, Sir George de Carteret. The state was established under the name of New Caeserea or New Jersey because the Roman name of the island was thought to have been Caesarea. The name “Jersey” most likely comes from the Norse name Geirrs ey, meaning “Geirr’s Island”.
New Mexico
Map of USA NM.svg
Nahuatl via Spanish Mēxihco via Nuevo México A calque of Spanish Nuevo México. The name México comes from Nahuatl Mēxihca (pronounced [meːˈʃiʔko]), which referred to the Aztec people who founded the city of Tenochtitlán. Its literal meaning is unknown, though many possibilities have been proposed, such as that the name comes from the God Metztli.
New York (state) New York
Map of USA NY.svg
English After the then-Duke of York (later King James II of England). Named by then-King Charles II of England, James II’s brother. The name “York” is derived from its Latin name Eboracum (via Old English Eoforwic and then Old Norse Jórvík), apparently borrowed from Brythonic Celtic *eborakon, which probably meant “Yew-Tree Estate”. See also York#Toponymy for more information.
North Carolina
Map of USA NC.svg
Latin via English (ultimately from Frankish) Carolus via Carolana After King Charles I of England. The name Charles itself is derived from Frankish karl, “man, husband”.
North Dakota
Map of USA ND.svg
Sioux dakhóta “Ally” or “friend”, after the Dakota tribe.
Map of USA OH.svg
Seneca via French ohi:yo’ “Large creek”, originally the name of both the Ohio River and Allegheny River. Often incorrectly translated as “beautiful river”, due to a French mistranslation.
Map of USA OK.svg
Choctaw okla + homa Devised as a rough translation of “Indian Territory”. In Choctaw, okla means “people”, “tribe”, or “nation”, and homa- means “red”, thus “red people”.
Map of USA OR.svg
Unknown Disputed Disputed meaning. First named by Major Robert Rogers in a petition to King George III.

Map of USA PA.svg
Welsh and Latin Penn + silvania “Penn’s woods”, after Admiral William Penn, the father of its founder William Penn. Pennsylvania is the only state that shares part of its name with its founder. The name “Penn” comes from the Welsh word for “head”.
Rhode Island
Map of USA RI.svg
Dutch roodt eylandt “Red island”, referring to Aquidneck Island. The Modern Dutch form of the phrase is “rood eiland”.
Greek Ρόδος (Ródos) For a resemblance to the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea.
South Carolina
Map of USA SC.svg
Latin via English (ultimately from Frankish) Carolus via Carolana See North Carolina, above.
South Dakota
Map of USA SD.svg
Sioux dakhóta See North Dakota, above.
Map of USA TN.svg
Cherokee ᏔᎾᏏ (tanasi) Tanasi (in Cherokee: ᏔᎾᏏ) was the name of a Cherokee village; the meaning is unknown.
Map of USA TX.svg
Caddo via Spanish táyshaʔ via Tejas “Friend”, used by the Caddo to refer to the larger Caddo nation (in opposition to enemy tribes). The name was borrowed into Spanish as texa, plural texas, and was used to refer to the Nabedache people (and later to the Caddo Nation in general). When the Spanish decided to convert the Nabedache to Catholicism, they constructed La Misión de San Francisco de los Texas, which later came to be used in naming the Viceroyalty of New Spain’s province.
Map of USA UT.svg
Western Apache via Spanish yúdah via yuta From the Spanish designation for the Ute people, yuta, in turn perhaps a borrowing from Western Apache yúdah, meaning “high” (not, as is commonly stated,” people of the mountains” and not from the Ute‘s own self-designation [nutʃi̥], plural [nuːtʃiu], as suggested by J. P. Harrington).
Map of USA VT.svg
French vert + mont “Green mount” or “green mountain”; vert in French means “green”, and mont means “mount” or “mountain”. However, in French, “green mountain” would actually be written mont vert.
Map of USA VA.svg
Latin “Country of the Virgin”, after Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married.
Washington (state) Washington
Map of USA WA.svg
English After George Washington, whose surname was in turn derived from the town of Washington in historic County Durham, England. The etymology of the town’s name is disputed, but agreed to be ultimately Old English.
West Virginia
Map of USA WV.svg
Latin The western, transmontane counties of Virginia, which separated from Virginia during the American Civil War. See Virginia, above.
Map of USA WI.svg
Miami via French Wishkonsing[106] Originally spelled Mescousing by the French, and later corrupted to Ouisconsin. Likely it derives from a Miami word Meskonsing, meaning “it lies red” or “river running through a red place”. It may also come from the Ojibwe term miskwasiniing, “red-stone place”.
Map of USA WY.svg
Munsee language xwé:wamənk “At the big river flat”; the name was transplanted westward from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.

Territory and federal district names

or federal district name
Language of origin Word(s) in original language Meaning and notes
American Samoa
Samoan Amerika Sāmoa The CIA World Factbook says “The name Samoa is composed of two parts, ‘sa’ meaning sacred and ‘moa’ meaning center, so the name can mean Holy Center; alternately, it can mean ‘place of the sacred moa bird’ of Polynesian mythology.” “American” is ultimately derived from Amerigo Vespucci. The name “American Samoa” first started being used by the U.S. Navy around 1904, and “American Samoa” was made official in 1911.
District of Columbia
DC Geographic Location.svg
New Latin Named for Christopher Columbus.
Chamorro Guam
(from Guåhån)
“What we have”, from Guåhån in Chamorro language. The name “Guam” was first used in the Treaty of Paris (1898).
Northern Mariana Islands
Northern Mariana Islands map.gif
Spanish Islas Marianas Mariana Islands chain named by Spain for Mariana of Austria.
Puerto Rico
Rico (1).png
Spanish Puerto Rico “Rich port”. The CIA World Factbook says “Christopher Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) and the capital city and main port Ciudad de Puerto Rico (Rich Port City); over time, however, the names were shortened and transposed and the island came to be called Puerto Rico and its capital San Juan.”
U.S. Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands-CIA WFB Map.png
Spanish Islas Virgenes Named by Christopher Columbus for Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. The name “Virgin Islands of the United States” (U.S. Virgin Islands) was adopted in 1917 when the islands were purchased by the U.S. from Denmark.
United States United States Minor Outlying Islands
United States Minor Outlying Islands.png
Various Various The name “United States Minor Outlying Islands” first started being used in 1986. Previously, some of the islands were included in a group called “United States Miscellaneous Pacific Islands“.

  • Baker Island was named for Michael Baker in 1832.
  • Howland Island was named after a whaling vessel in 1842.
  • Jarvis Island was named after three people named “Jarvis” in 1821 (when they discovered the island).
  • Johnston Atoll was named for Captain Charles Johnston in 1807.
  • Kingman Reef was named for Captain W. E. Kingman in 1853.
  • Midway Atoll was named in the 19th century for its location being approximately halfway between North America and Asia.
  • The CIA World Factbook says this about Navassa Island: “The flat island was named ‘Navaza’ by some of Christopher Columbus’ sailors in 1504; the name derives from the Spanish term “nava” meaning ‘flat land, plain, or field'”.
  • Palmyra Atoll was named in 1802 when the USS Palmyra shipwrecked there.
  • Wake Island was named after Samuel Wake, a British captain, in 1796 — a different captain, William Wake, discovered the island in 1792.

(For the source of this, and much additional information in the way of extensive footnotes, please visit: