US states How Did Every US State Get Its Name?  

Kellen Perry
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Have you ever wondered where your state's name comes from? If you think, "Native Americans, probably?" you're probably 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 (yes, even New Mexico!). 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.

Alabama is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list How Did Every US State Get Its Name?
Photo:  Travis/Flickr

Pretty straightforwardly, Alabama was named for the Alabama Indian tribe that lived in the western part of the state and eastern Mississippi until the early 1800s. The meaning of the word "Alabama" is unclear, but it may come from a Choctaw word meaning "thicket-clearers" or "vegetation-gatherers."

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Alaska is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list How Did Every US State Get Its Name?
Photo:  Jimmy Emerson, DVM/Flickr

The native Aleut word for Alaska, alaxsxaq, literally means the "object toward which the action of the sea is directed." Anthropologists note that this is essentially a "sea-centric" way to say "mainland."

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Arizona is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list How Did Every US State Get Its Name?
Photo: Wing-Chi Poon/Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

State historian Marshall Trimble says "Arizona" comes from the Basque words "aritz ona," meaning "good oaks," but there are other theories. Some think it's a corruption of Aleh-Shonak, a Native American village near Nogales, or it comes from the Spanish Arizonac, possibly a local name from the O'odham Native Americans that means "having a little spring."

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Arkansas is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list How Did Every US State Get Its Name?
Photo:  J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

"Arkansas" comes from Arkansa, which is what the French called the Quapaw tribe in the region. The "S" was added to make it plural, but it is officially silent. The original Quapaw word means "south wind."

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