Sunday, 14 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 1

After being offered the chance to rework an old piece, I thought I might clip together something of the original. The original (an idea I had after hearing an old Perry Como song) did not appear in alphabetical order but is reproduced so here purely for ease of reference (just in case you're dying to know why Wyoming?). Here then is the first in an examination of the fifty states of the US with the varied origins and meaning for each.

Alabama - the name of the Native American tribe, and their word, the language being Cree, adopted by the first French settlers for this region. Two such widely different languages meant the name has been corrupted and we have no idea if the original description was alba-aya-mule and 'we clear a way through the woodland' or alibamo 'we stay here'.

Alaska - Just off the coast are the Aleutian Islands, the inhabitants and their language were known as Aleutian and it is thought they described the large landmass as a-la-as-ka 'the mainland'. It is common knowledge that this land was sold by Russia to the US in 1867. At the time its English name was Russian America, however the Russian's always believed it to be a native name meaning 'great land'.

Arizona - Another name derived from the Native American inhabitants, whose Papago language spoke of ali-shonak 'the little spring'. The spring is no longer in the state or even in the USA but over the border in Mexico.

Arkansas - I had always wondered why the final 's' was not pronounced and it seems it was never a part of the name but simply added to the name of the River Arkansas to make it balance with neighbouring Kansas. The river name began as a Native American name Akenzea but has never been understood.

California - Several suggestions for the origin of this name, most likely named by the Spanish explorer Cortez who discovered this region in 1535 and is said to have named it from the Latin calida fornax 'the hot furnace' from its climate. Some suggest this is in fact after the legendary island ruled by the mythological Queen Caliphia. Cortez did give it another name, Santa Cruz or 'holy cross' although the many examples of this name across the continent menat this did not remain popular for long.

Colorado - named after the River Colarado, Spanish for 'the red river' and aptly named for it is stained red from the clay washed down from the upper course.

Connecticut - a Native American language, Algonquian, provided kuenihtekot, a word meaning 'the long river at'. Not the second 'c', which is silent, probably began as an error by an early clerk who confused it with the word 'connect'.

Delaware - named after one Thomas West or, more correctly, his title of Lord de la Warr. He was Governeor of Virginia in 1609 and the name was originally applied to the bay before being transferred to the state.

District of Columbia - Named after Columbus, traditionally the man who started the whole thing off by sailing west in 1492.

Florida - comes from the Spanish Pascua florida or 'flowering Easter' after being spotted from offshore on either Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, depending upon the report.

Georgia - named after the English king George II who was on the throne when this became a British colony.

Hawaii - its two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, were referred to as the abode of the gods. Hence Spanish explorers named them from the Polynesian name as 'the place of the gods'. From 1778 to 1898 these were officially the Sandwich Islands, named by Captain Cook.

Idaho - a Native American name said to be from the Kiowan-Apache language and, while the meaning is by no means certain, is thought to represent either 'territory of the fish-eaters' or 'mountain gem', the latter a reference to the precious metals found in the mountains.

Illinois - another named after a river, the Illinois itself is after the Illini tribe. This is said to represent an Algonquian word meaning 'people, men, warriors'.

Indiana - named by French settlers for the large number of Native Americans who were here when they arrived in 1702. It would not have survived had it not been for the name being taken by the Indiana Company who developed the land here in the eighteenth century.

Iowa - yet again there is a river named the Iowa and, once more, it is a Native American language which has proven the basis for the name. The probelm is deciding which tribe and thus which language we should consult. Either this is Sioux meaning 'cradling' or Ayuba 'sleepy', both describing the comparatively slow speed of the waters.

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