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15 State Names with the Best Origins

Delaware

When in New England discovered a river, they chose to name it after the first governor of Jamestown, Virginia. The governor’s name was Sir Thomas West. If that doesn’t sound like a name of a state, it’s because they chose his title, Lord De La Warr, or Lord of the War. He was as effective at fighting the Irish in his home country as he was at killing the Native Americans in theirs. The Delaware River was named after him, and the state was named for its river.

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Florida

Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon was the first recorded European to set foot in Florida. When he landed, he saw what millions of retirees and spring-breakers would see centuries later: Florida was beautiful. It was covered in so many flowers that he named the area “Pascua de Florida,” or “Feast of Flowers.” There’s no word whether he came up with this on the fly or while writing poetry in his diary that night.

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Georgia

People still love praising their bosses, especially if it’ll get them that promotion they want. This was an even more-common practice back when monarchies were the norm. Georgia was named after King George II. They, like many of us, were just itching for that promotion.

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Idaho

At some point, every state had to be taken before congress and approved in order to become the state that it now is. When lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name “Idaho” for a mountainous western state, he told them the name meant, “Gem of the Mountains” in the Native language. Just before Congress selected the name, they found out Willing had lied. They decided to name the state Colorado instead. Idaho came to be what people called the northwest area of the nation. Eventually, a mine was named after Willing’s lie, and then the territory surrounding the mine received the name as well.

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New Hampshire

John Mason was essentially a rich English guy who funded the colonization of America. In 1623, after a land dispute in 1623 between what are now the States New Hampshire and Maine, he sent some people over to settle the land. He was hoping to find gold or a river that would take him to China. (He found neither.) For the next few years, he continued to send more and more colonists over, almost bankrupting himself. In 1635, he decided to visit the colony himself, but he died before he could make it. The state was named after the place where Mason grew up: Hampshire, England.

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Iowa

What do you think of when you think of Iowa? If naps or an early bedtime just jumped into your head, then you and the people who named it are on the same page. Iowa was named after the people who lived their first, a name that means “sleepy ones.” The name went through several languages before it got to what we see today, but apparently, we all saw it as yawn-inducing as ever.

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California

Long before settlers discovered the land we now call California, a man named Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo wrote a romance novel. In it, there was a mythical land full of beautiful, black women who carried pet griffins they fed men to. They were ruled by Queen Califia. The novel grew popular. When the settlers went west, they named the land they found after the fictional queen, calling it California. Well, the name is either from the queen or an attempt at saying “hot oven.” No one really knows.

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Oregon

Fish grease. While there’s a lot of debate about what the word Oregon means, fish grease is one potential answer. More than likely, though, the name came from a map-maker’s error. When trying to write “Ouisiconsink River,” aka Wisconsin River, the map-maker hyphenated it, leading to the misspelling “Ouricon.” This eventually lead to Oregon. Either way, whether spelling mistake or fish grease, we’re pretty happy with this state name’s origin.

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Rhode Island

Rhode Island was originally named “Rood Eylandt” by the Dutch, although it looks like a child spelling Rhode Island. It was possibly named for all the red dirt the coastal islands had. Or for the Isle of Rhodes. Seriously, did nobody keep accurate records of why they named these things?

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Dakotas

Originally one massive state, the Dakotas were named for the Sioux word for “friend.” It’s kind of nice to know that, amidst our slaughtering of the Natives who lived here before us, we managed to find some friends along the way.

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Indiana

“Indiana” is the Latinized name for “Indians.” It means “Indian land,” or “Land of the Indians.” It’s ironic because Native Americans lived all over the continent, not just in Indiana.

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Vermont

The name “Vermont” is first documented in 1777 when Thomas Young, an organizer of the Boston Tea Party, addressed Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys, a militia established in 1760s that sought to resist New York and its desire to control the Vermont territory. Many of those Green Mountain Boys fought in the Revolutionary War.

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Virginia

In the 1600s, all of North America not owned by the Spanish or French was called Virginia, in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. She was the queen who never married, the Virgin Queen. Talk about a public sex life.

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Texas

“Teyshas” means friend in the Native American Caddo language. Spanish explorers thought it was their tribal name, so that’s what they called the Caddo. It’s a nice mistake to make. Teyshas lead to Texas, which was eventually called “Nuevo Reino de Filipinas: La Provincia de Texas” (New Kingdom of the Philippines: The Province of Texas). That was quite the mouthful, so it was shortened again to Texas.

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Wisconsin

Wisconsin was supposed to be called “Misconsing,” but because a map-maker tried to write fancy (or just had terrible handwriting), someone misread the “M” as a “Ou.” “Misconsing” accidentally became “Ousiconsin.” The accident was not realized for decades.

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