If you grew up in the United States, chances are you learned the names of all 50 states at a pretty young age. But while it may feel like the names are set in stone, the U.S. map could have actually looked very different. Here are four states that almost had entirely different names — and the stories behind them.
Anyone who has traveled around the western U.S. has probably come across the name "Humboldt." It appears on street signs, rivers, and mountain ranges And if history had gone a little differently, Nevada would bear this name, too.
The Humboldt name has found its way across the Americas because of the exploits of an explorer and naturalist named Alexander von Humboldt. Born in the late 18th century, Humboldt helped to popularize science with his book Kosmos. He had a fascination with geology, and decided he wanted to learn more about geomagnetic measurements by traveling to South America. He ended up traveling approximately 6,000 miles across Central and South America, exploring the oceans and landscapes. In fact, his experiences while exploring led Humboldt to become the first person to figure out that mountain sickness was caused by lack of oxygen.
Although he was never actually in the western U.S., explorer John C. Fremont chose to name many locations after Humboldt in honor of his scientific contributions. When Nevada became a state in 1864, "Humboldt" was seriously considered as a name — but ultimately, the government chose "Nevada," the Spanish word for snowfall.
The origins of Utah are closely tied into the history of the Mormons, who initially wanted to name this state "Deseret" after a name in the Book of Mormon. While the Mormon church began in New York, its members struggled to acclimate; this forced the church members to continually uproot themselves as they searched for a place to settle without harassment from locals.
The biggest blow to the Mormon church came in the 1840s, when founder Joseph Smith began encouraging Mormon men to marry multiple women. While he claimed to have received this order in a prophetic revelation, local bachelors didn't take too kindly to the idea of Mormon men stealing all their potential dates. In fact, Mormon polygamy so angered the locals that they killed Smith in 1844, leaving organizer Brigham Young in charge of the church.
To avoid further violence, Young decided to move the Mormons west to the Salt Lake basin. As they began to settle here, Young petitioned Congress to create a new state for them. The initial suggested boundaries of Utah were enormous, spreading across what is now Nevada and stretching all the way to the coastline of Southern California.
Young's petition was initially declined, at least in part due to anti-Mormon bias. However, after the Mormons publicly abandoned polygamy several decades later, they were finally granted statehood — although their state was much smaller than they had hoped, and they didn't get to name it Deseret. Instead, the government chose the name Utah, after the Ute tribe that lived there.
Although the state of North Carolina as a whole has always had the same name, a whole new state once briefly existed within its boundaries. This state was named Franklin, and it was born shortly after the end of the American Revolution. Residents of this area felt that they were distinct from those around them who had fought for independence; this mindset confirmed the concerns that many had regarding the west's relationship with the original 13 states after the end of the war. In fact, many people simply assumed that western communities wouldn't join the union at all.
The formation of Franklin occurred after North Carolina ceded four of its counties to Congress in 1784. In addition to feeling separated from the independent mindset, locals in this region also feared that the government would sell the land to Spain or France in order to cover its war debts. Rather than allow this to happen, residents decided to become an independent state.
Franklin did not clearly define its boundaries. Instead, it was assumed to spread across four North Carolina counties and partially into what would eventually become Tennessee. The U.S. government began to become concerned that this lack of boundaries would pose problems in their attempts to organize the new union.
Ultimately, Franklin never caused any serious problems. It maintained its independence for approximately four years, eventually rejoining North Carolina after it became too complicated to create independent treaties with the local Cherokee people. While it doesn't exist anymore, Franklin made a lasting mark on the Constitution: there is now a clause stipulating that a new state may not be independently formed within the jurisdiction of a preexisting state.
New Somerset, Yorkshire, Columbus, and Lygonia were all potential names for this state, but, ultimately, none of them stuck. In fact, King Charles hated the name "New Somerset" so much that he responded adamantly that the region should be known as "the County of Mayne and not by any other name or names whatsoever."
The name "Maine" first appeared in writing as early as 1622, although the region itself ultimately split off into multiple states in the 1800s. For many years, there was a popular misconception that Maine was named for Queen Henrietta Maria, who many believed to be the owner of a province in France named Maine. However, this turned out to be inaccurate — the queen was never involved with either location.
To this day, no one is quite sure where Maine ultimately got its name from. The most prevalent belief is that the region was actually named after the nautical term "main land" to distinguish it from the many islands located in the sea around the coast of Maine. However it got its name, though, King Charles can rest easy knowing that the name "New Somerset" never stuck.