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Native American State Names

We have received many e-mails asking us for a list of American state names that come from Native American languages, so here is a chart listing them. Note that not every state is on this list! Many states are named after places in Europe (like New York or Rhode Island), after European or American people (like Georgia or Washington), or after words from European languages (like Florida or Vermont.) Two states, Idaho and California, have made-up names with no meaning at all. And Hawaii, of course, is a Hawaiian name. (Hawaiian is a Polynesian language, not a Native American one.)

So here are the 26 states with names of Native American origin and the meaning behind each of them. To learn more about Native American tribes in your state, please visit our map of Native Americans in the United States. Comments and questions are welcome!



State's Name: Native American Origin:
Alabama Alabama is the name of an Indian tribe native to the state. This tribal name may have come from the word albina, which means "campsite" in their own language, or from the words alba amo, which mean "clearing brush."
Alaska Alaxsxix, which is a name from the Aleut language. This name means "place the sea crashes against."
Arizona Arizonac, which is a Spanish corruption of a local Indian name-- possibly the Tohono O'odham word alishonag, which means "little spring."
Arkansas Acansa, which is the name of a Quapaw Indian town. Literally the name means "southern place."
Connecticut Quinnitukqut, which is the Mohegan Indian name for the Connecticut River. Literally the name means "long river."
Illinois Illiniwek, which is the tribal name of the Illini tribe. Literally the name means "best people."
Iowa Ayuhwa, which is one of the tribal names of the Ioway Indian tribe. Literally the name means "sleepy ones."
Kansas Kansa, which is the name of the Kansa Indian tribe. Literally the name means "south" and is a shortened form of their own tribal name for themselves, People of the South Wind.
Kentucky Kentake, which is an Iroquois placename meaning "meadow land."
Massachusetts Massachuset, which is a Wampanoag Indian name meaning "by the range of hills."
Michigan Mshigem or Misigami, which are the native names for Lake Michigan in the Potawatomi and Ojibwe languages. Both names mean "great lake."
Minnesota Mnisota, which is the native name of the Minnesota River in the Dakota Sioux language. Literally the name means "cloudy water."
Mississippi Misiziibi, which is the native name of the Mississippi River in the Ojibwe language. Ojibwe is not actually a native language of Mississippi state-- the language is spoken near the source of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, which is where the river got its name, and the state was later named after the river. Literally the name means "great river."
Missouri Missouria is the name of an Indian tribe native to the state. Their tribal name came from the word mihsoori, which means "big canoe people."
Nebraska Nibthaska or Nibrathka, which are the native names for the Platte River in the Omaha-Ponca and Otoe languages. Both names mean "flat river."
New Mexico Of course, New Mexico was named after the country of Mexico, but since Mexico itself is named after an American Indian word, the state of New Mexico is also! Mexico is a placename from the Aztec Indian language (Nahuatl.) It literally means "city of the Aztecs."
North Dakota Dakota, which is the tribal name of the Dakota Sioux Indians. Literally the name means "the allies."
Ohio Ohiyo, which is the name of the Ohio River in the Seneca Indian language. Literally the name means "it is beautiful."
Oklahoma Okla Homma, which means "Red People" in the Choctaw Indian language.
Oregon This was a name given by early American settlers to the Columbia River. It was probably a Native American name which the settlers brought with them from another state, since it does not resemble names from the Native American languages of Oregon. It may have meant "beautiful river" in an eastern Algonquian language.
South Dakota Dakota, which is the tribal name of the Dakota Sioux Indians. Literally the name means "the allies."
Tennessee Tanasi, which was the name of a Cherokee Indian town in the region. Although "Tanasi" was recorded as the Cherokee name of this town, it does not specifically mean anything in the Cherokee language (just as many English place names are not specific words.) It may have been a shortened form of a longer Cherokee word or phrase, or it may have been named after a Cherokee person.
Texas Taysha, which means "friend" in the Caddo Indian language.
Utah Ute is the name of an Indian tribe native to the state. This tribal name may have come from the word nuutsiu, which means "the people" in their own language.
Wisconsin Wishkonsing, which is the Ojibwe name for the Wisconsin River. However, this word does not have a specific meaning in the Ojibwe language, and none of the Ojibwe Indians in our organization knows any oral traditions about where the name came from.
Wyoming Chwewamink, which means "by the big river flat" in the Lenape Indian tribe. The Lenape Indians never actually lived in Wyoming-- it was originally the name of a town in Pennsylvania, and white settlers from that area brought the name with them when they moved west.



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