Weird History
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How Did Every US State Get Its Name?

Updated February 26, 2020 72.3k views50 items

Have you ever wondered where your state's name comes from? If you assume they come from the indigenous peoples who once lived there, you're likely right. Almost half of all state name origins can be sourced to the Native Americans, typically because they first named a river or lake in the region. But there are others that aren't so obvious. 

Every US state on the map has an interesting naming origin if you dig deep enough. Many, in fact, remain mysteries to this day. If you're an etymology nerd or a fan of United States history, this super-sized list has plenty for you to ponder.

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  • California is the only state in the union named for a fictional place: the island paradise of California in Las Sergas de Esplanidian, a popular novel written in 1500 by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo.

  • "Colorado" is simply the Spanish word for "ruddy" or "reddish-colored," which is how Spanish explorers first described the Colorado River (Rio Colorado, or "Red River") upon initially seeing it.

  • This one sounds a lot like the word it comes from, the Mohican "quinnehtukqut," meaning "beside" or "at" the "long tidal river."

  • The Delaware River/Bay/tribes were all named after Thomas West, AKA Lord De La Warr, the first English colonial governor of Virginia. This moniker - "De La Warr" - is likely derived from "de la werre," the Old French expression for "of the war."