10 State Names That Mean Something Interesting
Have you ever wondered what the names of many states in America actually mean? We're accustomed to hearing names like Texas, Massachusetts, and Alaska, but where did those names come from?
Below, we look at 10 states with particularly mystifying names.
Virginia: Mother of the New World
Did you know that a large portion of North American land was called Virginia before it was divided into separate English colonies? In the 1500s, Sir Walter Raleigh named the entire swath of uncharted land between Newfoundland and Florida after England's Queen Elizabeth I, who was the reigning monarch. As time progressed and the population increased, colonies were formed. An actual colony named Virginia later became the 10th American state in 1788.
Now, you may be wondering why the colony was called Virginia if the queen's name was Elizabeth. For the answer, we'll have to go back in time to the Tudor era.
Queen Elizabeth I never married and was known as "The Virgin Queen." Popular legend has it that she was wary of marriage, especially after her mercurial father King Henry VIII had Elizabeth's own mother executed. So, Elizabeth, by all accounts, remained a virgin. This is why the state is called Virginia.
Alabama: Garden of the Choctaw
The Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto included information about the "Alibamu" or "Alibamo" Indian tribe in his personal journals as early as 1540. It's commonly thought that the name Alabama is a compound of two words: alba (vegetation) and amo (gatherers).
This Choctaw tribe did indeed cultivate much of what is now known as our 22nd state. Interestingly, agriculture is still a major part of Alabama's economy today.
Missouri: All About Boats
Why did we start calling the 24th state "Missouri"? Answer: it's a little easier to pronounce than "weemeehsoorita."
As the name of a Sioux Indian tribe, this long word actually references the skillfully-crafted dugout canoes the tribe is famous for making. Today, some linguists translate weemeehsooita as "dugout canoe," while others prefer "people of the big canoes." With a heritage embedded in boating, you can be sure Missouri's lakes and rivers are perfect for all sorts of water sports.
Michigan: Lots of Water
Michigan is another state with a name that's up for debate in regard to its origin. That said, Michigan most certainly draws inspiration for its name from the abundance of water in the state. Some historians claim a French rendition of the Algonquin "meshi-gami," which means "big lake." Meanwhile, another source states that the name "Michigan" originates from a Chippewa word (meicigama) in reference to Lake Superior!
Whatever the case, we all know that "big lake" is an accurate description of our 26th state!
Iowa: Time for a Nap
In 1893, a man named Peter Melendy claimed that Iowa meant "the beautiful land." However, other historians begged to differ.
The Ioway tribe, also known as the Ayuways, had lived in Iowa territory for decades (until the early 1800s, when they were displaced through the Indian Removal Acts). The Ioway tribe was reportedly dubbed so by the Dakota Indians, who thought the Ioways looked a little drowsy. They called the Ioways "the sleepy ones."
While some people still debate whether the 29th state should be pronounced "I-uh-wuh" or " I-uh-way", we now know the rest of the story.
California: A Touch of Romance
California didn't become the official 31st state until 1850, but it was most certainly populated before then. In fact, the Spanish had been exploring the state since the early 1500s. Apparently, many of the California-bound Spaniards had a famous romance novel in mind when they discovered what they thought was an island.
Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo's Las Serges de Esplandian (1510) told of a fictional island ruled by a dark-skinned queen named Calafia. Her dominion was called California, and much like the fictional Amazon island of Themyscira, was inhabited only by women. For whatever reason, the Spanish explorers thought that "California" was a fitting name for their new discovery, and it has stuck ever since!
Wyoming: East or West?
In the Eastern territories, the Algonquin Indians used the word mecheweamiing (on the big plains) to identify their original home in Pennsylvania. For their part, white settlers thought the tribe was referring to wyoming. The name soon became associated with what is now the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.
Later, U.S. Representative James M. Ashley of Ohio suggested that the new Western territory be named Wyoming after the beloved Pennsylvania valley where he was born. That said, Ashley reportedly didn't think the name was suitable after seeing the land in person.
Nevertheless, others took his suggestion and ran with it, using it as the official title of the 44th state!
Hawaii: Legendary Heroes
Long ago, a Polynesian of great courage set out on an extensive boating expedition with his crew and found a beautiful island. His name was Hawaii-loa, and he named the island Kai Holo O Ka Ia. As his descendants began to populate the surrounding cluster of islands, he named the newly populated islands after his children and the stars that guided him there.
As time progressed, other explorers discovered the islands and called them by different names. In 1778, Captain James Cook titled the islands the Sandwich Islands after his friend the 4th Earl of Sandwich. While it seems like a humorous name in our modern minds (perhaps a good place to have a picnic?), the name actually remained until 1819. In that year, King Kamehameha I took the throne and christened his kingdom "Hawai'i."
There is some debate as to whether Hawai'i was named in reference to the hero Hawaii-loa or to another forgotten Polynesian island. However, considering Hawaii-loa's legendary fame in Hawaiian culture, it's probably safe to draw the conclusion that the memory of his exploits have immortalized themselves in the name of our 50th and final state.