Alabama: From alipama or alibamu, a Muskogee tribal name meaning "Those who clear the land."
Alaska: From the Aleut word for their homeland on the Alaska peninsula, Alakhskhakh; also Aleut for "great land."
Arizona: A Pagago word, airzonac, probably meaning "small springs."
Arkansas: From the Illinois name for the Quapaw, akansea. The same word has been said to mean "downstream people."
Connecticut: Mohegan or Pequot for "long tidal river" or "wind-driven river."
Dakota (North and South): A Dakota Sioux term for themselves (dahkota), meaning "friends" or "allies." It is interesting that the immigrants expropriated the Sioux's own name for themselves, with its friendly connotations, meanwhile assigning the Dakota a corruption of an old French word Sioux, meaning "snake" or "enemy."
Idaho: The Native language from which this state name is derived is unknown; it is said to have meant "gem of the mountains"; some say it means "The sun is coming up."
Illinois: The name of an Algonquian confederation, meaning "original people" or "superior men," after a term that the Illinois Indians used for themselves. The name originated with the Algonquian iliniwak, modified by French traders as Illinois.
Iowa: For the Ioway Indians, modified through French, from the Fox language, as aayahooweewa (possibly from the Sioux ayuhba). Both words mean "sleepy ones."
Kansas: Kansa for "people of the south wind."
Kentucky: From kenta, possibly an Iroquois word for "planted field." Some say the word is Cherokee for "meadowland."
Massachusetts: Meaning "people of the big hill," this name was used to describe an Algonquian people who lived near a steep hill near Boston.
Michigan: Meaning "great water" (michigamea) or "big lake," the name is probably derived from the Algonquian or Ottawa language.
Minnesota: From minisota, a Dakota word meaning "sky-tinted water."
Mississippi: A combination of two Algonquian or Ojibway words: misi, meaning "great" or "large" and sipi, meaning "water," usually taken to mean "big river."
Missouri: A French adaptation of an Illinois (Iliniwak) word meaning "people with dugout canoes." This is also the name of a tribe that lived near the river and also may be taken to mean "big muddy river," after the Missouri Indians' name for it, Pokitanou, which carries that meaning. To this day, inhabitants of cities along the river customarily call it The Big Muddy.
Nebraska: From the Omaha name Nibdhathka, meaning "flat river" or "flat water," named for the shallow but wide Platte River. Some sources say the word is from the Oto language; it may be from both.
New Mexico: As a province of New Spain, New Mexico's name was derived from Mexica, the Aztecs' name for themselves.
Ohio: Derived from a Seneca word meaning "beautiful river."
Oklahoma: "Red men" in Choctaw, a translation of "Indian Territory" into the Choctaw language.
Tennessee: From Tanasi, a Cherokee name for the Little Tennessee River, as well as a principal Cherokee town by the same name. It is said to mean "area of traveling waters."
Texas: First a Spanish (Tejas), then an English derivation from taysa, a word used among members of the Caddo tribal confederacy meaning (like "Dakota") "friends or allies."
Utah: From the tribal name Ute, anglicized from yuuttaa, the Utes' name for their homeland, "the land of the sun."
Wisconsin: The name of a tribal confederacy living near the Wisconsin River, the English name is probably derived from the Ojibway Wees-konsan, "gathering of the waters" and "grassy place."
Wyoming: This name, meaning "big meadows" or "big river flats," originated with the Delaware (Leni Lenápe) of present-day Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and was carried by non-Indian migrants to the state that now bears the name. "Wyoming" is anglicized rather liberally from the Leni Lenápe maughwauwame, a name given first to the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania.
Bruce E. Johansen
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