Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fifty Nifty United States, Part I

I once heard it said that it's ironic that people build sprawling housing developments, then name the streets after the trees they've cut down. This must be a time-honored tradition - there are a heck of a lot of states named after Indian tribes.
  • Alabama: Named for a local Indian tribe, the Albaamu, whose name, in turn, derives from albah amo which loosely translates to plant cutters.
  • Alaska: From the Aleut alaxsxaq, meaning the object toward which the action of the sea is directed, which is a mouthful. Speaking of mouthfuls, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the baked Alaska is named either for its color or for the fact that it's cold inside. A shocking revelation.
  • Arizona: No one can seem to agree. Could come from the Basque word for Good Oak; could come from Spanish by way of the O'odham Indian language's arizonac word meaning having a little spring; could come from , the arizuma, the Spanish by way of Aztec word for place that's got silver; could come from the Spanish Arida zona, for arid land. My money's on arid.
  • Arkansas: Named for the Arkansas river, which in turn was named for the Acansa tribeacansa being the French by way of Sioux word for downstream place. I think.
  • California: Another one we're foggy on; probably named after a fictional city found in the Spanish romance Las sergas de Esplandián by a fella by the name of Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo. 
  • Colorado: Named for the Colorado river, from the Spanish word for red colored, referring to the color of a lot of soil in the region.
  • Connecticut: You think Connecticut's hard to spell? It comes from the Algonquian quinnitukqut, their name for the Connecticut river. It means long tidal river.
  • Delaware: Named for the Delaware river, which is named for a dude called Lord De la Warr, the first governor of Jamestown at Virginia. Which is nowhere near Delaware. 
  • Florida: From the Spanish for Pascua florida, which translates to flowery Easter, a Spanish name for Palm Sunday, 'cause they discovered it on Palm Sunday.
  • Georgia: Named after King George. Finally a simple one.
  • Hawaii: Probably from the Polynesian hawaiki, meaning place of the gods
  • Idaho: Most sources agree that it's named because apparently some dude named George Willing made up the name and claimed it was an Indian word for Gem of the Mountains. Online Etymology Dictionary disagrees and says it comes from the Apache word idaahe, which means enemy. Either way, pretty silly.
  • Illinois: Exceptionally long and boring story short, named for the Illinois Indians. 
  • Indiana: Land of the Indians. "We named our state for you. Now get out."
  • Iowa: From the Dakota by way of French word Aiouez, a local Indian tribe, whose name may or may not mean sleepy ones.
  • Kansas: Named for the Kansas river, named for the Kansas tribe. Yawn.
  • Kentucky: Named for the Kentucky river, from an Indian word for meadow. Which is silly because it's a river, not a meadow. Silly, I say.
  • Louisiana: After King Louis. Not to be confused with King Louie from Tail Spin by way of the Jungle Book. (Imagine the dude pitching the show Tail Spin. "Okay, it'll star Baloo the Bear and King Louie from Jungle Book, but Baloo will be a pilot and Louie will own a floating bar." "Brilliant!")
  • Maine: Might be named after the French province of the same name; might be named because it's the mainland; might be named for the English village of Broadmayne, hometown of the colony's founder.
  • Maryland: Named for Henrietta Maria, wife of English king Charles I.
  • Massachusetts:  From the Algonquian word Massachusett for big ol' hill.
  • Michigan: After Lake Michigan, from an Ottawa word meaning big ol' lake.
  • Minnesota: After the Minnesota river, from the Dakota word mnisota, meaning milky water.
  • Mississippi: After the river of the same name, from the Ojibwe or Algonquin word meaning big ol' river.
  • Missouri:  After the Missouri tribe, whose name comes from an Indian (Illinois or Algonquin, depending on who you ask) word for place with a bunch of boats. Approximately.
Look for Part II later, when I'm no longer sick of looking at my computer screen.

This Wikipedia article
Didn't actually use this bizarre YouTube video, but I thought I should share.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, so did we not let Puerto Rico become a state due to a lack of indians to steal from, or from a lack of new names?


Cap'n Ergo "XL+II" Jinglebollocks said...

I'm still stuck on Alaska. How would you use the word "alaxsxaq" in a sentence?? Like, "the boat is alaxsxaq home", meanining the waves are bringing it closer to shore??

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

No, Potter, it's because fifty-one doesn't rhyme with "nifty."