Sunday, 25 September 2011

Etymologies of the Capital Cities of the US states. Part I

Some months ago I reproduced snippets from an old article looking at the etymologies of the names of the US states. I made a note to examine the capital cities of those same states in the future and examine the origins of those place names. Here are the results and, as there are fifty, I have split the piece into two.

Alabama - Montgomery was named to honour the American hero of the War of Independence General Richard Montgomery

Alaska - Juneau was fittingly named in 1881 one year after Joseph Juneau arrived, one of the first to arrive seeking gold.

Arizona - Phoenix has no connection with the Phoenicians even though the inhabitants are known as such. Neither is there any record of the place ever being rebuilt following a fire, which would lend itself to being named after the fabled bird said to rise from its own ashes. Hence the reason is unclear, although one source does suggest it was built on the remains of a Native American site but this may well be creative etymology.

Arkansas - Little Rock was named by French explorer Bernard de la Harpe in 1722 as La Petite Roche, French for 'the little rock' which stands on the banks of the River Arkansas.

California - Sacramento took the name of the River Sacramento, itself the Spanish for 'sacrament'. Clearly of religious significance although the beginnings are a mystery, the city was previously known as Fort Sutter after John Sutter, who established a trading post here.

Colorado - Denver was named after former governor General James W. Denver, previously it was known as Auraria, the Latin for 'golden'.

Connecticut - Hartford was named Newtown when settled by the English in the seventeenth century, but renamed Hartford twenty years later. It was named after the English town of Hertford (meaning 'the ford frequented by harts or stags') but spelled differently although probably not deliberately!

Delaware - Dover was established in Kent County by the English, hence the famous English port had its name transferred here. The derivation of the English version, although hardly relevant here, is from the Celtic river name Dour, itself from dubras and meaning simply 'waters'.


Florida - Tallahassee is a Native American, specifically Muskogean, word meaning 'old town'.

Georgia - Atlanta was the terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and named because of this and not the Atlantic Ocean directly.

Hawaii - Honolulu is from the Hawaiian hono 'harbour' and lulu 'calm', hence sheltered area in the Pacific Ocean.

Idaho - Boise is named from the river on which it stands and, unsurprisingly, is from the French where riviere boisee speaks of 'the wooded river'.

Illinois - Springfield is a common name in the USA, hence the reason it was chosen for the home of Homer Simpson and his family. Normally self-explanatory, in this example it was transferred from its namesake in Massachusetts, itself coming from that from Essex in England.

Indiana - Indianapolis is clearly named from the state, itself 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. The addition is Greek polis meaning simply 'town'.

Iowa - Des Moines has a lot in common with Boise for not only is it clearly French but is also derived from the river. Here the riviere des moines describes 'the river of the monks', which may refer to Trappist monks who settled these lands but more likely is a corruption of the Native American tribe the Moingouena, which was abbreviated to Moings in the plural.

Kansas - Topeka is a capital city named from the Sioux word meaning literally 'potato good place', and telling us the wild tuber known in English as the potato could be found.

Kentucky - Frankfort is not an erroneous spelling of the German city of Frankfurt telling of 'the ford of the Franks'. However the meaning is very similar in 'Frank's ford', the man in question being Stephen Frank, a pioneer who was among the settlers killed by Native Americans at the ford on the Kentucky River while making salt.

Louisiana - Baton Rouge is literally French for 'the red stick', which has seen a number of stories told regarding its origins. That most often related concerns a red pole supposedly hammered into the ground to show where the French territory ended and the Native American land began. However it is more likely to be a bad French translation of a native chief's name.

Maine - Augusta does not share an origin with Augusta, Georgia which was named after England's Princess Augusta, the daughter-in-law of King George II. This was Augusta Dearborn, daughter of Henry Dearborn the American statesman, physician and veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Maryland - Annapolis was named after the English Queen Anne, although she was Princess Anne when the place was named. The suffix is Greek polis or 'town'.

Massachussetts - Boston is a transferred name from Boston in Lincolnshire, the place where many of the Puritan settlers had begun their journey.

Michigan - Lansing is another transferred name, this time from Lansing in the state of New York where many of the original settlers had begun their overland journey. New York's Lansing was named after John Lansing, a politician and legal man.

Minnesota - Saint Paul was named after the dedication of the church founded by the French priest Lucien Galtier.

Mississippi - Jackson was named to honour Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the USA.

No comments:

Post a Comment