Thought Catalog
October 15, 2014

26 States That Were Named By Native Americans, Was Your State?

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I’d wager that most people (including me, until now) aren’t aware that over half the states that make up the union we call the United States are actually Native American words for the land or the people that White settlers simply adopted as they spread across the West. Here are all 26 states as well as the meaning of their names according to the Nevada Dept. of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and various state websites.

1. Alabama

Named after the Alibamu tribe of Indians who were members of the Creek Confederacy. Literally, it means “clears the thicket.”

2. Alaska

From the word “Alakshak’ which means peninsula.

3. Arizona

This one’s uncertain but may derive from a word meaning “small springs.”

4. Connecticut

From the expression “quinnitukg-ut” which means “at the long tidal river.”

5. Hawaii

From the words “Havaiki” or “Hawaiki,” which was the legendary name of the original Polynesian homeland.

6. Idaho

Derived from one of three sources and meaning one of three things:

  • Comanche “Idahi”
  • Shoshone “ee-dah-how” which means something like “Good Morning”
  • Salmon River Tribe of Indians “Ida” means salmon and “ho” means tribe so we might be saying “Salmon eaters”.

7. Illinois

From “ilhiniwek” or “illiniwek”. “Illini” meant “man” and “iwek” makes the word plural, so, literally, “men.”

8. Iowa

Named after the Ioway Indians.

9. Kansas

Named after the Kansa Indians.

10. Kentucky

Means one of three things: meadow lands, cane and turkey lands, or dark and bloody ground.

11. Massachusetts

An Indian word meaning “about the big hill.”

12. Michigan

From the Chippewa Indian word “Michigama” meaning “large lake.”

13. Minnesota

From the Dakota Indian word “Minisota” meaning “white water.”

14. Mississippi

From the Choctaw word meaning “Great water” or “Father of Waters.”

15. Missouri

“Town of the large canoes.”

16. Nebraska

From the Oto Indian word meaning “flat water.”

17. New Mexico

Named after Mexico, of course. Means “place of the Mexica.” One source says that it’s derived from the name “Mertili” who was an Aztec god.

18. Ohio

From the Iroquois word meaning “beautiful.”

19. Oklahoma

From the Chocraw word meaning “red people.”

20 and 21. South and North Dakota

This used to all simply be called the Dakota Territory. The Indian word “Dahkota” means “friends” or “allies”.

22. Tennessee

From the Cherokee “Tanasi” which was a village. The word means one of three things: “meeting place”, “winding river”, or “river of the great bend”.

23. Texas

A Caddo Indian word meaning “allies.”

24. Utah

Derived from the Ute Indian word “Yuta” meaning “people who live high in the mountains.”

25. Wisconsin

From the word “Wishkonsing” meaning “place of the beaver.”

26. Wyoming

“On the Great Plain.” TC mark

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