A Socio-Linguistic Investigation into the Etymology of American State Names

Abdel-Rahman H. Abu-Melhim, Nedal A. Bani-Hani, Mahmoud A. Al-Sobh


The aim of this article is to determine the semantic and etymological roots of the fifty names of the American states. It examines the etymology of these names and seeks to explain the sociolinguistic aspects that contributed to their development. Moreover, it unearths the origins of the original inhabitants of these states, respectively, taking into account the fundamental roles that language and culture played in the naming process. This research article is therefore qualitative and descriptive in essence and depends greatly on consultation with etymological authorities. For example, it referred to official information available on the websites of the respective states in order to access important details related to the development of the naming process. Collected data were analyzed and collected primarily within the framework of past and present mainstream theories of etymology. In addition, this study was undertaken with a view towards providing the most logical and reasonable explanations for states' names. It concluded that all fifty states have acquired their names from a diverse assortment of languages. For example, twenty-four of the states come from languages indigenous to the Americas and one comes from Hawaiian. Eight states' names are derived from Algonquian languages; seven states' names are derived from Siouan languages; three states' names are derived from Iroquoian languages; one state derives its name from a Uto-Aztecan language and five states derive their names from other languages indigenous to the Americas. Twenty-two of the other states derive their names from languages of Europe; seven states derive their names from Latin; five states derive their names from English; five states derive their names from Spanish and four states derive their names from French. The origins of the names of six states are contested: Rhode Island, Oregon, Maine, Idaho, Hawaii and Arizona. Eleven states are named after individuals. For example, seven states are named after queens and kings. These include North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and Maryland. Interestingly, only one state was named after a president - Washington. 


American state names, etymology, sociolinguistics, historio-linguistics, name coinage

Full Text:



Bauer, L. (1983). English word-formation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139165846.

Bright, W. (2004). Native American place names of the United States. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Campbell, L. (2004). Historical linguistics: An introduction. Boston, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Campbell, L. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of native America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Crowley, T. (1992). An introduction to historical linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (1997). The Cambridge encyclopedia of language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Donehoo, G. P.(1998). A History of the Indian villages and place names in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg, PA: Telegraph Press.

Douglas, H. (2014). Etymology. Online Etymology Dictionary.

Frawley, W. (2004). International encyclopedia of linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. DOI:10.1093/acref/9780195139778.001.0001.

Guyton, K. (2009). U.S. state names: The stories of how our states were named. Nederland, Colorado: Mountain Storm Press.

Hodge, F. W. (1911). Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. DOI:10.2307/197770.

Liddell, H. G. & Scott, R. (1940). A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Mahr, A. C. (1959). Practical reasons for Algonkian Indian stream and place names. Ohio Journal of Science, 59(6), 365–375.

McCafferty, M. (2004). Correction: Etymology of Missouri. American Speech, 79(1), 1-32. DOI:10.1215/00031283-79-1-32.

McCafferty, M. (2003). On Wisconsin: The derivation and referent of an old puzzle in American place names. Onoma, 38, 39-56.

Mencken, H. L. (1921). The American language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States. New York City, New York: A. A. Knopf Publishing House.

Mithun, M. (1999). Languages of native North America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pulju, T. (1991). A short history of American linguistics. Historiographia Linguistica, 18(1), 221-246.

Ransom, J. E. (1940). Derivation of the word ‘Alaska’. American Anthropologist, 42(3), 550–551. DOI:10.1525/aa.1940.42.3.02a00340.

William, W. N. (1961). The Indians of Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.4p.248


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.