Librarian Files

States that have names from Native American Languages

Name
Origin
Alabama 
From an Indian tribe of the Creek Confederacy originally called the Alabamas or Alibamons, who in turn gave the name to a river from which the state name was derived. Name means, “we stay here” or “we clear a path through the forest.”
Alaska
From the Eskimo word “alakshak,” meaning “peninsula;” also said to mean “great lands.”
Arizona 
Many authorities attribute the meaning to a word meaning arid zone or desert.  Others claim the name is Aztec, from “arizuma” meaning, “silver bearing.”  Still another version attributes the origin to the Tohono O’odham tribe of the Southwest, who named it from the locality in which they lived called Arizonac, meaning “site of the small springs” (lack of water).  This place was near the present town of Nogales, and in the early 1700’s, silver was discovered near here, which gives some credence to the Aztec word “arizuma.”
Arkansas   
Origin is uncertain.  The word, according to some, is of Algonquin origin, and the meaning is unknown.  Others say that Arkansas is a French version of “Kansas,” a Sioux name for “south wind people.”
Connecticut 
Appears to be a derivation of the Indian word “Quonoktacut,” interpreted by some to mean “river whose water is driven in waves by tides or winds.”   Other interpretations include “long river,” “the long (without end) river,” and “long river place.”
Hawaii
Hawaiian.  English spelling of Owhyhee, possibly from a native word meaning “Homeland.”
Idaho   
Presumably from a Shoshone translation of “Edah hoe,” meaning, “light on the mountains.”  Also “Ida” means “salmon” and “ho” means “tribe” or literally “eaters,” hence “salmon eaters.”
Illinois 
From the Illini Indian word meaning “men” or “warriors,” supplemented by the French adjective ending “ios.”
Indiana
Presumably named from the fact that the land lying along the Ohio River was purchased from the Indians.  Others claim it was named for the Indian tribes who settled in western Pennsylvania.
Iowa
From an Indian tribe, “Ah-hee-oo-ba.” Meaning “sleepy ones” or “drowsy ones.”  They lived in the valley of the State’s principal river, which they named for their tribes; and, in turn, the name was applied to the state.
Kansas  
Named for the Kansas or Kanza tribe of the Sioux family that lived along a river in the area that gave it the tribal name.  The name translated as “south wind people,” or “wind people.”
Kentucky
The explorer Clarke claimed the name was derived from the Indian word “Kentake,” meaning “meadow land.”  The claim is also made that stems from the Shawnee word meaning “at the head of a river” inasmuch as they used the Kentucky River in traveling through the area.   It is also claimed to stem from the Wyandot word “Ken-tah-the,” meaning “land of tomorrow.”
Massachusetts
First of the states to have an Indian name.  From the Algonquin word “Massadchues-et,” meaning” great-hill-small-place,” possibly for the hills around Boston as seen from the bay.
Michigan       
From Algonquin word “Mishigamaw,” meaning “big lake” or “great water,” deriving its names from the lake of the same name.  Also said to be from “Michi” meaning “great” and “Gamma” meaning water.
Minnesota
From Sioux word meaning “cloudy water” or “sky-tinted water,” deriving its name from the river of the same name.
Mississippi
Meaning “great river” or “gathering-in of all the waters,” sometimes referred to as the “father of waters,” indicating that the Indians were aware of the immensity of the river.  First written by Tonti as “Michi Sepe.”
Missouri
An Indian tribal name denoting “muddy water” and named for the large river.
Nebraska
From Sioux word describing the river from which the State gets is name, meaning “shallow water” or “broad water.” Also said to be an Otos Indian word meaning “flat river,” referring to the Platte River.
New Mexico 
Called “New Mexico” when the Mexicans referred to the territory north and west of the Rio Grande in the 16th century.  May have been derived from the name of the Aztec war god, “Mixitli;” still another interpretation is that it means “habitation of the god of war."
North and South Dakota
From Indian name meaning “allies.”  Indian form is Lakota, Nakota, Lahkota, or Dakota, depending on dialect.   “Allies” was used to signify the common name of the confederated Sioux tribes.
Ohio
Iroquois Indian word meaning “beautiful river,” taken from the river of the same name.
Oklahoma
Coined about 1866 by a Choctaw-speaking missionary, it means “red people.”
Tennessee
The name is of Cherokee origin from a tribe located at a village site called Tanasee (also spelled Tennese).  The state is named for its principal river, which has been interpreted as meaning “bend in the river.”
Texas
The generally accepted version is that the name is an Indian word “tejas,” meaning “friends” or “allies.”
Utah
Apache word from the Yuttahih meaning “one that is higher up,” referring to the Ute Indians who lived higher in mountain country than the Navajo or Apache of the area.
 Wisconsin 
Chippewa word “Miskonsin,” interpreted by the French as Ouisconsin, and means “grassy place.”  Named after its principal river and another version is said to mean “wild rushing channel;” also refers to “holes in the banks of a stream in which birds nest.”
Wyoming
One meaning is “extensive plains” from the Delaware word “maugh-wau-wama.”  Another interpretation suggests that the name means “mountains with valleys alternating.”

                                                     
Source: 
Native American Annual. Incline Village, Nev. : Native American Pub. Co.1985.   Page 47.  (PCPL no longer owns this book.)
 
 
 
 

Article tagged with: State Names

Last Update: 12-10-2010 4:50pm

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