Sunday, 28 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 3

Following on from the previous two weeks, here is the final helping on the examination of the origins and meanings of the names of the fifty states of the USA.

New York - when settled by the Dutch the city, which gave its name to the state, was given the name of New Amsterdam. When captured by the English in 1664 it was renamed in honour of the Duke of York, who was virtual ruler of the colony on behalf of his brother, King Charles II.

North Carolina - both North and South Carolina were named by Frenchmen Jean Ribaut and the Huguenot settlers who came here in 1560 and named it La Caroline in honour of their king Charles IX.

North Dakota - a Native American tribe the Omaha lived here, the Sioux word dakota means 'allies' and refers to the tribal union. The state was divided into North and South Dakota in 1889.

Ohio - the Native American Iroquois word ohio means 'beautiful' which was a description of the Ohio River and which was then transferred to the state.

Oklahoma - of Native American Choctaw origin where okla homa described it as the '(territory of) the red people'.

Oregon - no state has more suggestions for an origin than that of Oregon. Numerous languages have been cited, including Native American, French, Spanish, and even Iranian. Even more confusing are the definitions, including the simplistic 'hurricane' and the astonishingly far-fetched 'piece of dried apple'. The accepted origin dates from 1715 and a French cartographer who marked what is now the River Wisconsin as Ouariconsint. Unfortunately lack of space meant he required two lines and the last four letters became detached thus effectively creating a new river name of Ouaricon which was later anglicised to Oregon.

Pennsylvania - lanted granted to the Quaker William Penn was known as 'Penn's woodland', the Latin for 'wood' is silva.

Rhode Island - described in the early sixteenth century by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano as 'about the size of the island of Rhodes' is highly unlikely to have been the origin of this name. Dutch settlers did refer to this place as rode meaning 'red' and a reference to the colour of the soil.

South Carolina - both South and North Carolina were named by Frenchmen Jean Ribaut and the Huguenot settlers who came here in 1560 and named it La Caroline in honour of their king Charles IX.

South Dakota - a Native American tribe the Omaha lived here, the Sioux word dakota means 'allies' and refers to the tribal union. The state was divided into North and South Dakota in 1889.

Tennessee - again a state named after the local river or possibly a tribal name, the Native American Cherokee phrase Tenn-assee either refers to 'river' if it began as the watercourse or, should this be the tribe, would refer to them as having 'crooked ears'.

Texas - several suggestions, none of which are likely to be correct, and including the notion that it came from the meeting between the Native American peoples and a Spanish monk who was told they were the taxian or 'good friends'.

Utah - here is certainly the name of the Native American tribe here, the word Ute describes them and/or their mountainous homelands as 'tall'.

Vermont - a name of French origins, vert mont describes 'the green hills', the forested slopes are still the dominant feature in this part of the country.

Virginia - famously named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, who died four years before the settlers arrived here in 1607.

Washington - the capital city is named after one of the nation's most famous individuals, George Washington, and the state was also named to honour the man.

West Virginia - another part of what was Virginia and became separated during the American Civil War.

Wisconsin - another state named after a river, the Wisconsin is a French version of the Native American Algonquian name thought to describe 'the long river'. Although it should also be noted there have also been suggestions of 'the grassy plain' and the highly simplistic 'our homeland' if the name refers to the surrounding land and not the river.

Wyoming - the name is from the Native American Algonquian meche-weami-ing telling it was 'the big flats at (our place)' and was in use some sixty years before it was officially adopted for the state name in 1868, after it appeared in a poem by Thomas Campbell entitled Gertrude of Wyoming.

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'.

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.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mountains, Hills and Ranges

One of the pieces I was asked to produce this week explained the origins of some of the more elevated regions of the planet. On the scale of the human lifetime hills and mountains are eternal and thus it is no surprise to find the names are generally older than the majority of settlement names. (The same is also true of rivers.)
In writing books on place names I've often come across hills composed of a number of elements, each from a different language and clearly showing successive cultures had no idea what the existing name meant and added their own. Examples include Bredon Hill in Leicestershire (there is another in Worcestershire), where the first name was Celtic bre meaning 'hill'. When the Saxons came along they added dun and referred to it as 'the hill called Bre'. Later Middle English hyll was tagged on to refer to 'the hill called Bredon', although really the name means 'hill, hill, hill'. Pendle Hill on the Cheshire/ Lancashire border is identical in meaning, while Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria actually has four elements all meaning 'hill'.
Elsewhere the highest point on the planet is the summit of Mount Everest, named after the Surveyor-General of India Sir George Everest, the Tibetans refer to it as Chomolungma or 'the mother goddess of the earth'. Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano in East Africa with a name from Swahili kilima njaro or 'the mountain of the god of cold', even today the summit is covered in snow all year round, a strange sight in equatorial regions. Another volcano, and one which is still very much alive, is Mount Etna, a name from Greek aitho or 'burn'. Vesuvius is another famous European volcano, this is from Old Scandinavian fesf meaning 'smoke'.
The Andes is a rangle of mountains running down the western coast of South America which derive their name from the Inca word anta or 'copper', referring to the deposits of the ore to be mined here, or from a Quechuan Indian anti simply meaning 'east'. The Alps dominate the high regions of Europe, possibly from Celtic alp 'rock, mountain' although Latin alba 'white' is equally plausible. The Himalayas are not only the largest chain of mountains in the world but also the youngest. Two potential origins and meanings here, Sanskrit hima alaya would give 'the snow abode' or the deity Shimalia is said to be 'the goddess of the white mountains'. The Urals form the border between Europe and Asia. Possibly Tatar ural meaning 'girdle, belt', it may also have taken the name of the Aral Sea and thus 'island' in the sense of higher islands in the flatter surrounding plains.
The Pyreneesdivide France from the Iberian Peninsula and is derived from a Celtic ber or per 'point, summit'. The Appalachians run down the east coast of North America and have a name from the native American tribe which were found here, the Apalachee. Mount Athos in Greece is from thoos 'sharp, pointed'. The range known as the Atlas Mountains is one of the best known origins, a reference to the Greek Atlas, the god who supported the world on his shoulders. The Cascade Range takes the name of the many waterfalls on the nearby River Columbia.
Origins of the Carpathian Mountains is thought to be Thracian or Illyrian, similar languages referring either to the inhabitants the Carpi or from karpe meaning 'rock, cliff'. The Antarctic volcano of Mount Erebus took the name of the vessel of Sir James Ross which discovered it, the Erebus took the name of a Greek god associated with darkness. Closer to home Scotland's Ben Nevis is from the Gaelic beinn-nimh-bhatais or 'the mountain with its peak in the clouds'. While the tallest Welsh mountain has an Old English place name, Snowdon meaning 'the hill with snow'.