U.S. States with Native American Names

Where I live in the state of Arizona, there are many amazing Indian tribes including the Apache, Navajo, Hopi, Paiute, Hualapai, Yavapai, and more.  These amazing tribes of hunters, gatherers, and warriors have a long and rich history across the United States of America.  They were the first stewards, or guardians, of this nation, living on the land thousands of years before Columbus discovered its rugged shores.  I have always been fascinated with Native American history and the impact of various tribes on our culture throughout the centuries. And with November being Native American Heritage Month, I thought it would be a great chance to explore more about the impact of Native American Indians on the nation of America.  Did you know that more than half of all U.S. states are derived from Native American words or were named after Native American tribes?  Can you guess any?  I gave a clue when talking about the Mayflower landing.  If you thought of the state of Massachusetts, you are correct!  This state was named after the Algonquin word “Massadchu-es-et,” meaning “at the big hill” or “a place of hills.”  And I found more incredible history, so let’s discuss the states in alphabetical order.  (And please excuse me if I mispronounce any names.)  First is Alabama.

  1. Alabama is named after the Alabama – or Alibamu – tribe. Some say the word “Alabama” means “clearers of the thicket” or “herb gatherers.”  Others say it comes from the Creek language meaning “tribal town.” Maybe one of our listeners in Alabama can write in and tell us more.
  1. Alaska is named after the Aleut word “Alyeska” meaning “great land.”
  2. Arizona, my home state, is named after the O’odham word “alĭ ṣonak” meaning “small spring.”  Speaking from experience, Arizona is very vast, hot, and dry, with temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more in the summer.  If you live in Arizona, you have to be very good at finding water and I’m sure the Native Americans in this area are experts at finding the small springs!
  3. Connecticut comes from the Mohican word “quonehtacut” meaning “beside the long tidal river.”

5. Hawaii in the Hawaiian language means “homeland.”   This is a very beautiful island with lush green jungles, sandy beaches, palm trees, waterfalls, and amazing sunsets.  I am sure the natives are incredibly happy to live there and call it their homeland.

6.  Idaho is a little tricky.  It can come from several origins, including the Salmon River tribe and their words “Ida” meaning salmon, and “ho” meaning tribe – so, the land of “Salmon eaters.”  Or it could come from the Comanche word “Idahi,” although I couldn’t a meaning for that word.  A third source states that the name “Idaho” is a made-up name!  Records indicate that a mining executive named George Willing spoke to Congress about land around a specific mountain peak and made up the name “Idaho,” saying it was a Shoshone phrase “E Dah Hoe (How),” meaning “gem of the mountains.”  Eventually, his lie was discovered but by that time, the name was in common usage and was never changed.  I’d love to hear more from a listener in Idaho!

7. Illinois is derived from the Illini’s word “illiniwek” meaning “best people.” 

8. Iowa is named after the Iowas – or Ioways – a Sioux tribe.  It comes from their word “ah-hee-oo-ba” meaning “sleepy ones.”

9. Kansas is named after the Kaws – or Kansa – Indians, who are another Sioux tribe, with the word meaning “south wind people.”

10. Kentucky is a bit more difficult to determine.  It may be named after the Iroquois word “Ken-tah-ten” meaning “land of tomorrow.” It may have other meanings, too, such as “cane and turkey lands” or “dark and bloody ground.” If you live in, or come from, Kentucky, we’d love to hear from you.

11. Michigan comes from the Chippewa word “Meicigama” meaning “great water.”  Michigan is home to over 64,000 lakes and waterways, including Lake Superior, so it sure does have a lot of great water! 

12. Minnesota comes from the Dakota Indian word “Minisota” meaning “cloudy water” or “sky-tinted water.”

13. Mississippi is derived from the Ojibwe or Algonquin word “misi-ziibi” and means “great river.”  It is named after the great Mississippi River that runs through the state.

14. Missouri comes from a Missouri Sioux word meaning “town of the large canoes,” “wooden canoe people,” “he of the big canoe,” or “river of the big canoes.” I think we can safely say that most people in Missouri back then traveled by canoe!

15. Nebraska comes from the Oto Indians and their word “Nebrathka” meaning “flat water.”

16. New Mexico is said to mean “place of Mexitli,” an Aztec god.

17. Ohio is derived from an Iroquois word meaning “good river.”

18. Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw words “okla humma” and means “red people.”

19/20. South and North Dakota comes from the Sioux word “Dahkota” meaning “friend.”

21. Tennessee comes from Creek and Cherokee origins.  The word “Tanasqui” is said to mean “meeting place,” “winding river,” or “river of the great bend” and was also the name of a Cherokee village.

22. Texas derives from the Caddo Indian word “teyshas,” meaning “friends” or “allies.”

23. Utah comes from the Apache language and their word “yuttahih” meaning “people of the mountains.”

24. Wisconsin is another bit of tricky history.  One source states that the name comes from an Indian word “Wishkonsing” meaning “place of the beaver.” Another source states it comes from Indian words meaning “river running through a red place,” referring to the Wisconsin river running through the red bluffs of the Wisconsin Dells. Maybe someone from Wisconsin can write in and tell us.

25. Wyoming comes from the Delaware Indians and the shortening of their word “mecheweamiing” meaning “at the big plains.” 

We owe a large debt of gratitude to the Native American Indian tribes who settled America long before immigrants arrived from other countries.  They honored the land and took great care of it, only taking what they needed and giving something in return to keep the universe in harmony and balance.  They had great wisdom and were in tune with the land, waters, mountains, and stars.  They listened to, and watched, their environment and mastered how to survive on the land.  They knew the best seasons for hunting, planting, gathering, migration, hibernation, celebrations, and more.  

I think we can learn a lot from these amazing Indian tribes and their timeless wisdom, including some of their proverbs, such as: 

Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of mankind.  Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people?  Know that you yourself are essential to this world. (Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 1954, Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation)

The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.  (Chief Joseph)

Treat the Earth well.  It was not given to you by your parents.  It was loaned to you by your children.  We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. (Ponca Chief White Eagle)

It does not require many words to speak the truth.  (Chief Joseph Nez Perce)

Man has responsibility, not power.  (Tuscarora proverb)

What you do not know, you will fear.  What you fear, you will destroy.

Nothing in nature lives for itself.  Rivers don’t drink their own water.  Trees don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself.  Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves.  Living for others is the rule of nature.

Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it.  (Arapaho)

Regard Heaven as your father, Earth as your mother, and all that lives as your brothers and sisters.

Listen to the wind – it talks.  Listen to the silence – it speaks.  Listen to your heart – it knows.

May the footprints we leave behind show that we walked in kindness toward the Earth and every living thing. 

Give me knowledge so I may have kindness for all.

Listen or your tongue will keep you deaf.

So, what do you think about all this amazing Native American Indian history?  Do you live in a town, city, or state with an Indian name?  Or is there a park, river, or mountain in your community with an Indian name?  My friend grew up in the state of Vermont, which means “Vert Mont” or “Green Mountain” in French, but her town also has a river running through it called the Ottaquechee (AWT-ah-KWEE-chee), meaning “swift mountain stream.”  As we have learned from history, early European explorers sometimes changed the names of places they discovered or explored.  So, even if your state’s name does not come from Native American origins, maybe it has a town, river, or mountain with an Indian name.  Why not hunt for these names or ask your parents to help you look on a map for these names?  I would love to hear from you and learn more about your discoveries regarding Native American influences where you live.