AfriGeneas States Research Forum
[Nationwide] What does your state's name mean?
Here is some information that one might find useful about the naming of states and their meanings: from James T. Haley's African American encyclopedia
THE DERIVATION AND NICKNAMES OF
ALABAMA.--The derivation of the name "Alabama," like that of numerous other states, is of Indian origin, and is commonly supposed to signify "Here we rest," and these words are on the States coat-of-arms. It takes its name from its principal river and is generally known as the "Cotton State."
ALASKA is an Indian name and signifies "great land" or "main land." The name is said to have been given by Captain Cook in his voyage of 1778. It was purchased by the United States in May 1867 for $7,200,000.
ARIZONA is supposed to be of uncertain meaning.
ARKANSAS, after its chief river. The meaning is in doubt. By an act of the State Senate in 1881, the true pronunciation of the word was declared to be Ar-kan-saw. Formerly it was so spelled, but the original way has not yet been restored. It was admitted into the Union June 15, 1836. It is called the "Bear State."
CALIFORNIA is of Spanish origin. First permanent settlement made at San Diego, April 11, 1769. Has been supposed to mean "hot furnace," but the term is not applicable, on account of the general climate of the State, which is temperate and healthful. The name is said to have been given to an imaginary island in the Orient, "near the Terrestrial Paradise." In 1535 a company of Spanish explorers supposed they had found this poetic island, or its twin sister and named it accordingly. It is called the "Golden State."
CAROLINAS.--This name was given to a fort not far from Bufort, South Carolina, by Ribault in 1562 in honor of Charles I. of England, or Charles IX., King of France. Is one of the thirteen original
States. Was ratified November 21, 1789. South Carolina is familiarly known as the "Palmetto State," while her neighbor is known as the "Tar State," or "Old North State."
COLORADO is a Spanish word and means "Red or Colored." It was named for the river of the same name. It was admitted into the Union in 1876, just one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence, and hence the favorite nickname--"Centennial State."
CONNECTICUT.--The name is of Indian origin, meaning "Long River," or "upon the long river." The State is sometimes called the "Land of Steady Habits." It became a State January 9, 1788. It is popularly known as the "Nutmeg State," from the jocular slander that its peddlers were in the habit of palming off wooden nutmegs on their customers.
DAKOTAS.--The word Dakota is a name by which the people of the greatest northwestern Indian Confederacies called themselves. It means "leagued." South Dakota was admitted into the Union Nov. 2, 1889. It is sometimes called the "Swiagecat," or "Cayote" State, while her Northern sister has been called the "Sioux," or "Flickertail" State.
DELAWARE.--This name was given first to the bay, next to the river, and lastly to the State, in honor of Lord de la War, Governor of Virginia. It is called the "Blue Hen State," or "Diamond State."
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.--Congress, on the 28th of June, 1790, passed an act providing, "that a district of territory on the Potomac, at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and the Connogocheague, be and the same is hereby accepted for the permanent seat of the Government of the United States." Ten miles square was laid out for this purpose, Virginia and Maryland contributing the land.
FLORIDA is the Spanish for "flowery." It is the Spanish name for Easter Sunday, the day on which Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513. It is called the "Peninsular State."
GEORGIA, named in honor of King George II., of England, who granted to General Oglethorpe a charter for same. She was admitted into the Union January 2, 1788. Seceded January, 1861; re-admitted December, 1870. Popularly known as the "Cracker State."
IDAHO.--Indian name and means "Gem of the Mountains," said to refer to the "bright sunshine on the mountain tops, so characteristic of that strangely beautiful country." Admitted as a State, July, 3, 1890.
ILLINOIS, the name of its chief river, and of the confederated tribes dwelling on its banks. The name signifies "a superior class of men." It is one of the most important States in the Union in point of wealth and population. It is appropriately called the "Prairie State" on account of its broad expanse of prairie lands. It is also called the "Sucker State."
INDIANA is sometimes called the "Hoosier State," a term of which the origin has never been satisfactorily explained.
IOWA.--The meaning of this word has been variously interpreted. It is generally conceded, however, to mean "The abode of peace," also "across" or "beyond," and this name is supposed to have been applied by the Illinois tribes to their enemies across the Mississippi river. It is called the "Hawkeye State," and is apparently intended to commemorate the famous chief, Black Hawk.
KANSAS.--This State is called after a tribe of the same name which in the Indian dialect signifies "South Wind." It is popularly known as the "Sunflower State."
KENTUCKY.--Admitted as a State June 1, 1792. It is an Indian name and signifies "Dark and bloody ground." It is sometimes called the "Corn Cracker," but is most generally known as the "Bluegrass State."
LOUISIANA.--Named in honor of Louis the XIV., of France. Popularly known as the "Pelican State."
MAINE signifies the "Main" or "Mainland." From the immense white pine forests it has been given the name of the "Pine Tree State."
MARYLAND, named in honor of Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I., of England. It is properly known as "The Old Line State."
MASSACHUSETTS.--This name is of Indian origin, and means "About the Great Hills." The first settlers were known as the "Pilgrims," who landed in a small vessel known as the "Mayflower." Three large bays indent the Eastern shore, and for this reason it is called the "Bay State."
MICHIGAN.--This word signifies "A weir for fish" or "Lake Country." It is called the "Wolverine State."
MINNESOTA after its river of the same name; in the Kakota language, minne means "water," and sotah means "sky-colored." It is usually called the "Gopher State," but is sometimes called the "North Star State," from the motto on its coat-of-arms.
MISSISSIPPI is from the Indian, Algonquin, missi-sepe, "great
river." "Father of Waters," the accepted interpretation, and one that has been so popular, is only a fancy. From the frequent bayous formed by the changing of the stream, the State is called by the nickname, "Bayou State."
MISSOURI is of Indian origin and is derived from two words, missi souri, signifying "great muddy" (river). It is said to bring down from the "Rockies" so much mud that the water, when taken up in a small vessel, has the appearance of coffee.
MONTANA, a Spanish name, meaning "mountains." It was admitted into the Union Nov. 8, 1889, and is called the "Stubtoe State."
NEBRASKA is an Indian name, meaning "shallow water." It is popularly known as the "Antelope" or "Black Water" State.
NEVADA is of Spanish origin, and from is chief product is known as "The Silver State." The meaning of the word is "white with snow." It took its name from the Sierra Nevada, a range of lofty mountains dividing it from California. It is sometimes called the "Sage Brush State," from the scope of country covered with sage brush.
NEW HAMPSHIRE.--Named after the country of Hampshire, England. From the rocks of the White Mountains, it is called the "Granite State."
NEW JERSEY.--Named after the Isle of Jersey, in the English Channel. Called the "Sharp Backs State."
NEW MEXICO, after Mexico.
NEW YORK--"The Empire State," so call on account of the fact that it takes first rank in population, wealth, and commerce among the States in the Union. It was named for the Duke of York.
OHIO is an Indian word, meaning "beautiful river." This name was first applied to the river between Pittsburg and Cairo, and the first State erected north of this stream was named for it. It is popularly known as the "Buckeye State," from the abundance of buckeye or horse-chestnut trees.
OKLAHOMA is an Indian word, and signifies "beautiful land," or "fine country," and so it is. This beautiful country is increasing rapidly in population and material prosperity
OREGON.--This is a Spanish word from "Oregano." The name signifies "Thyme." It was admitted to the Union February 12, 1859. It is called the "Beaver State."
PENNSYLVANIA is the most celebrated State in the Union for extensive coal beds. It was named in honor of admiral Penn, father of
William Penn. The meaning is Pennis--"Sylva"--woods. It is called the "Keystone State," probably because its name was carved on the keystone of the bridge over Rock Creek, between Washington and Georgetown. She is also the middle of the thirteen original States.
RHODE ISLAND, from her size, is universally known as "Little Rody." The probability is that it was named in honor of the Greek island in the Mediterranean--"Isle of Rhodes."
TENNESSEE is named after her principal river, a Cherokee word, signifying "crooked river," or "river of big bend," and is popularly known as the "Volunteer State."
TEXAS takes her name from a tribe of Indians who passed through that country in 1536. The word is of Indian origin, and signifies "friends." It is called the "Lone Star State," from the device on her flag and shield.
UTAH is named after a tribe of Indians. The word signifies "Mountain Home." Mormans call it the "Deseret," which they claim means "The Land of the Honey-bee."
VERMONT is of French Origin, and is derived from two words--vert, green, and monts, mountains, hence the nickname, "Green Mountain State."
VIRGINIA.--Commonly called "The Old Dominion," because Charles II. allowed it to call itself the fourth dominion of his empire, that is, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Virginia. The name is in honor of Queen Elizabeth, of England. It is also known as the "Mother of Presidents." Slavery was also first introduced here in 1619.
WASHINGTON was named for the "Father of his Country," and is called the "Chinook State."
WEST VIRGINIA separated from the "Old Dominion" in 1863, and is called the "Little Mountain State."
WISCONSIN, after the name of its chief river, which means "wild rushing channel," "westward flowing," or "Prairie River." It is popularly known as the "Badger State."
WYOMING is an Indian word, said to mean "broad valley.
ABOUT one forth of the population of the world is not under the law of civilization.