Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Origin of State Names

Update: Montana fixed and is now Spanish

Neatorama has an article listing the origin of state names.

Catholicgauze decided the article needed a good map to see if there are any spatial trends. Above are my mapped results. The most of the interior states are named after Indian words. There are only two areas which buck the trend of Indian names. The Atlantic Coast states are mostly named after places or people from Europe or based European cultures in the case of Washington. In the Southwest, four of the six states name origins come from Spanish.

Here's my hypothesis why. Most of the European-origin states were colonized before the time of American Independence while most of the Indian-origin states were settled later by American pioneers. Could the reason for this be that Americans, even though they violated and remade countless treaties, saw naming the lands this way as recognizing the Indians presence on the landscape? Any thoughts?


Rosa said...

Interesting choice in putting my home state in the European origin section. Indiana named for Indians a name given to the folks here by the Europeans.

Lexington Green said...

"...saw naming the lands this way as recognizing the Indians presence on the landscape..."

Three responses. One, the discussions and debates regarding state names almost certainly exist, so a precise answer to why each state got its name is probably a recoverable fact.

Two, as a guess, perhaps the post-indepence states took Indian names as a way of emphasizing their local, American origin, rather than any European or English origin.

Three, on A related point, the settlers who settled the trans-appalachian West were a mixed bag from a bunch of different places. An Indian name was probably an easy compromise that did not favor any of the settler groups.

The next frontier for this analysis is, of course, a study of the origins of the 3,000 or so COUNTY names. That would show some interesting patterns as well.

Catholicgauze said...

Rosa, I actually debated on Indiana. I felt danged if I do and danged if I don't.

Lexington Green,
1. Good point
2. Good point
3. Good point
"4." Interesting, I may just have to do that.

Charging Rhino said...

And the Carolinas were named for King Charles, so they should be "English", not Latin. Really no-difference than "Virginia", "Georgia" or "Pennsylvania".

Catholicgauze said...

The problem with Carolina is that is comes from Charles' name spell in Latin.

cokaygne said...

The French called my state, Maine, a part of Acadia. The English bestowed the name "Maine" supposedly in honor of a French province controlled by the wife of the English kind.

In general, it would be more interesting to see a map of who named the various states.

In that regard, the name of Massachusetts is interesting. The current state resulted from a merger of the English colinies of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth. They were considered by the English to be part of the province of New England.

I need to research this, but I suspect that, unlike most English colonies (the Carolinas, Virginia, New York after its acquisition from the Dutch, etc.) Massachusetts was not named for a royal patron or proprietor because its settlers very pointedly wanted to separate themselves from what they considered a corrupt homeland and its popish aristocracy. Massachusetts Bay was named for its location.

Similarly, Connecticut, an offshoot of Massachusetts was named for its location and is the result of a merger of the offshoot colonies of Connecticut and New Haven, a name which comments on the supposed back-sliding of Massachusetts.

As an indicator of how much the founders of early New England hated the allegedly popish monarchy consider that three of the men who signed the death warrant for king Charles escaped the death penalty by hiding out in New Haven with the active connivance local officials.

Russ said...

Montana is of Spanish origin (though that language derives in part from Latin). It means fittingly 'Mountain'.

A buddy sent me a link to you page. This is awesome. Keep up the good work!!!

Catholicgauze said...

Hey Russ, that is true. Stupid bathroom reader.

Ben W. Brumfield said...

I'm with Charging Rhino. Carolina may be the Latin form of "Charles", but is no more "Latin" ('Carolus' being a name unrecognizable to an Imperial Roman) than Virginia is.

Anonymous said...

Arizona is also spanish origin! just thot id let u no!

Catholicgauzette said...

According to the Library of Congress website "America's Library" (, Arizona comes from two Papago Indian words, arizonac, meaning "place of the young spring"

As a Spanish speaker, I have a hard time accepting that Arizona could be a Spanish word. Some that belive the word is Spanish, state that it comes from "arida zona" or arid zone; however, in Spanish this grammar would be unusual (the usual way would be "zona arida").