Sunday, 21 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 2

Following last week's reworking of an old piece, here is the second helping on the examination of the origins and meanings of the names of the fifty states of the USA.

Kansas - once again the River Kansas is the source, itself after the Kansa tribe (although some sources cite the reverse) said to mean 'the south wind'.

Kentucky - the River Kentucky is the source here, a name from Native American kan tuk kee 'the land dark with blood', a reference to tribal battles and showing the river took the name of the land before it returned it in the name of the state.

Louisiana - named by the French settlers fro their king Louis XIV, although the original area was much larger the modern state.

Maine - a name which has two possible derivations. If this is from the French settlers, then it is transferred from the Normandy province, itself from the Gaulish tribe of the Cenomanni 'the hill dwellers'. However English settlers would have referred to this as 'the mainland', which would easily have been misunderstood as speaking of 'the land of Main or Maine'.

Maryland - named to honour the then consort of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria.

Massachussetts - another Native American name and possibly representing Algonquian massud ch es et or 'high hill, little plain'. While this would certainly fit the landscape it could never be seen as applicable for the bay which was named (in English) before the state.

Michigan - the Native American tribe, the Chippewa, had two words which are equally plausible as the origin of both the state and the lake. While it would seem that michigan is the most likely, this describes a 'forest clearing' while the alternative michaw sasigan or 'great lake' is the better definition - indeed the most likely reason is the former word being confused with the latter, which would be the true meaning.

Minnesota - the state takes the name of the river, a Native American Sioux minne sota referring to the 'cloudy water' of the silt-laden water course.

Mississippi - again a state named after a river, here the Native American Algonquian refers to the 'great river', a very apt name for the continent's longest river.

Missouri - this is also a river, the longest tributary of the Mississippi, which is a Native American Dakota term meaning 'muddy' which is an appropriate description of this heavily silted river.

Montana - a name of Spanish derivation meaning 'mountainous' and which originally applied to the small town of gold prospectors, then to the immediate territory, and finally to the state in 1889.

Nebraska - a Native American Sioux ni bthaska quite literally 'flat water' - exactly the same as seen in the French name of the Riviere Plate, anglicised to River Plate.

Nevada - a state which does not take its name from its major river but from a mountain range and one which is not even in the state. This comes from the Spanish for 'snowy range' and transferred to this range during the expedition of 1518 who saw the resemblance between these and their own Sierra Nevada in Spain.

New Hampshire - English settler Captain John Mason, who had been granted lands here by King Charles I, named this after his native Hampshire in England, a county name which describes 'the district around Hamtun', the early name for Southampton.

New Jersey - another settler, Sir George Carteret, who was granted lands here came from Jersey, one of the (English) Channel Islands, itself with a name hotly disputed by scholars with many suggested origins. The most popular is from its Norse era and thus a combination of either jarth 'earth' or jarl 'earl' with ey 'island'.

New Mexico - clearly this takes its name from the country of Mexico which it borders to the south. It was named as such by the Spanish explorer Francesco de Ibarra in 1562. Incidentally Mexico takes the name of the lake which stood roughly where Mexico City does today. Known as Metzlianan by the Aztecs this comes from metz-tli 'moon' and atl 'water', the city took the name of Metzxihco meaning 'in the navel of the waters of the moon'.

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