2020.12.31 Map of US state name etymology
Oh jeez, is this becoming an annual tradition? Oh well, anyway here we are in the dwindling hours of 2020 (local time, and the Universal Time new year is probably going to arrive while I'm writing this... yup, there it is). Forthwith a map of US states colored by the etymology of their names. I made the first version of this map back in 2012. Here's the latest version:
Here's a corresponding listing in case you're using a screen reader or otherwise can't read the map (or want a refresher on which states are which!):
- Names from Indigenous languages: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, the Dakotas, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
- English names deriving from a person's name: the Carolinas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia.
- English names deriving from British place names: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York.
- Other English names: Indiana.
- Spanish names: California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada.
- French names deriving from a person's name: Louisiana.
- French place names: Vermont.
- Names with unknown or disputed origin: Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island.
Now, these are the categories I came up with upon the original making of the map, and I might revise them some if sufficiently motivated; for instance, I'm not sure why I split English and French names into subcategories but didn't see fit to for Spanish. And maybe the Indigenous names could be subdivided by, I dunno, language family? Talk about Eurocentric at the moment! Anyway, we'll see if I can eventually make that happen.
One thing to note is that each name's language assignment is decided by its ultimate origin. Of course, pretty much all the names are Anglicized to some degree, at least in pronunciation if not spelling, so it makes sense to go back past that; and then for instance "Mexico" within "New Mexico" arrives here via Spanish, but is probably originally Nahuatl. "New Mexico" also illustrates another point to note, which is that English prefix words (New, North, South, West) are ignored for these purposes.
Let's look briefly at some patterns visible here. Probably the clearest one is that most of the country's central states, comprising most of the Mississippi River watershed and adjacent areas, have Indigenous names and form a large continuous block. This includes most of the original Louisiana Territory except for Louisiana itself! And Indigenous names constitute over half of the state names at 26 definite, and likely some of the unclear-origin names.
Meanwhile, most of the original thirteen colonies outside New England have, unsurprisingly, English names. Most of those named for people are named, again unsurprisingly, for royalty: Maryland, the Virginias, the Carolinas, and Georgia. New England is more varied in name origin.
More surprising is that there are as many state names as there are of unclear or disputed origin. All those states have interesting stories and hypotheses surrounding their names' etymology, which can be investigated in their respective Wikipedia articles.