This map shows the literal meaning of every state name


Flattened Water. Place of the Small Spring. Milky Water.

At first glance, these phrases might look like just a jumble of words, but they’re actually something way cooler: the literal translation of three state names in the United States. Can you guess which ones?

Expedia Canada put together this colorful map that shows the literal meaning of all 50 state names. And you might be surprised to know a particular state’s meaning.

As Expedia puts it, state etymologies “offer a unique insight into the forgotten history of the continent and may teach something new about your home.”

Want to dig into the state meanings a little more? Expedia Canada includes links to its sources. So you can decide for yourself if, for example, you’d prefer knowing Alabama as “tribal town,” the translation from the American Creek language, or the more popular translation of “vegetation gatherers” or “thicket-clearers,” derived from the Choctaw language.

A lot of the state meaning variation comes down to which Native American language source you go with. Others have an obvious connection to the English language (Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North/South Carolina, Virginia) or famous figures (Washington and Pennsylvania).

It’s fun knowing the backgrounds of the state names you’ve been saying since you learned to spell M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I (that’s “Great River” to you).


Here are Expedia’s top choices for each state’s literal meaning and the language each was derived from.

Note: There are conflicting origin stories for many state names. If you’ve done any digging into this yourself, you’ll find this to be true! This map and the etymology for each state name are based on Expedia’s research, which you can read more about here.


Meaning: Thicket-Clearers

Language: Choctaw

Alabama photo
Getty Images | Kevin C. Cox


Meaning: That Which the Sea Breaks Against

Language: Aleut

northern lights photo
Getty Images | Uriel Sinai


Meaning: Place of the Small Spring

Language: Spanish interpretation of O’odham

grand canyon photo
Getty Images | Ethan Miller


Meaning: Land of Downriver People

Language: Quapaw

arkansas photo
Flickr | Luke Cureton

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Meaning: Mythical Island Califia

Language: Spanish

golden gate photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan


Meaning: Sandstone Soil

Language: Spanish

colorado photo
Flickr | docoverachiever


Meaning: The Long Tidal River

Language: Mohican

Connecticut photo
Getty Images | Spencer Platt


Meaning: Of The War

Language: Old French

Delaware photo
Flickr | Thomas James Caldwell


Meaning: Flowery Easter

Language: Spanish

disney world photo
Getty Images | Handout


Meaning: Land of King George II

Language: Greek

georgia photo
Getty Images | Scott Cunningham


Meaning: Place of the Gods

Language: Proto-Polynesian

(Note: Other research shows that, in the Hawaiian language, Hawaii has no meaning. Unfortunately etymology, particularly in the case of state names, presents conflicting research. This is the case with Hawaii along with others on this list. The meaning listed here is in accordance with Expedia’s map and their research, which you can read more about here.)

Hawaii photo
Getty Images | Darryl Oumi


Meaning: Gem of the Mountains

Language: Adaptation of Native American word from northwest origin

Idaho photo
Flickr | The Knowles Gallery


Meaning: Best People

Language: Derived from the Native American word, “Illiniwek”

chicago photo
Flickr | szeke


Meaning: Land of the Indians

Language: Native American origin

indy 500 photo
Flickr | Jim Bauer


Meaning: This is the Place

Language: Native American origin

Iowa photo
Flickr | TumblingRun

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Meaning: People of the South Wind

Language: Native American origin

Kansas photo
Flickr | Garett Gabriel


Meaning: The Meadow

Language: Iroquois or Shawnee origin

university of kentucky photo
Getty Images | Andy Lyons


Meaning: King Louis XIV

Language: French

new orleans photo
Getty Images | Mario Tama


Meaning: Mainland

Language: French

maine photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan


Meaning: Land of Queen Henrietta Maria

Language: English

maryland photo
Flickr | Charlie Stinchcomb


Meaning: Near the Great-Little-Mountain

Language: Native American origin

boston photo
Getty Images | William B. Plowman


Meaning: Great Lake

Language: Native American origin


Meaning: Milky Water

Language: Siouan

minnesota photo
Flickr | Dougtone


Meaning: Great River

Language: French

Mississippi old capitol museum photo
Flickr | lordsutch


Meaning: Dugout Canoe

Language: Siouan

Missouri gateway arch photo
Flickr | Francisco Diez


Meaning: Mountainous

Language: Spanish

Glacier National Park montana photo
Flickr | theogeo


Meaning: Flattened Water

Language:  Based on Oto Indian word “Nebrathka”

Chimney Rock nebraska photo
Flickr | Dougtone


Meaning: Snow-Covered

Language: Spanish

las vegas photo
Getty Images | Ethan Miller

New Hampshire

Meaning: The New Hants

Language: English

New Hampshire photo
Flickr | kla4067

New Jersey

Meaning: Channel Island of Jersey

Language: English

New jersey photo
Flickr | Dougtone

New Mexico

Meaning: New Place of Mexitli (Aztec God)

Language: Aztec

White Sands National Monument photo
Flickr | _Gaspard_

New York

Meaning: New Home of the Duke of York

Language: English

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North Carolina

Meaning: In Honor of King Charles I

Language: From the Latin word for “Charles”

the biltmore photo
Flickr | BlakeLewisPhotography

North Dakota

Meaning: North Ally

Language: From the Sioux Native American word for “friend”

north dakota photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson


Meaning: Good River

Language: Iroquois Native American

Flickr | James Duckworth


Meaning: Red People

Language: Choctaw Native American

Flickr | zendt66


Meaning: Indian River Ouragon

Language: French

Crater Lake National Park photo
Flickr | Ray Bouknight


Meaning: Penns Woods

Language: English

liberty bell photo
Flickr | pepsiline

Rhode Island

Meaning: Red Island

Language: Italian

providence Rhode Island photo
Flickr | davidwilson1949

South Carolina

Meaning: In Honor of King Charles I

Language: From the Latin word for “Charles”

Flickr | Alistair Nicol

South Dakota

Meaning: South Ally

Language: Sioux Native American

south dakota photo
Flickr | dean.franklin


Meaning: The Bends of a River

Language: Native American origin

tennessee photo
Getty Images | Michael Shroyer


Meaning: Friend

Language: Spanish

Flickr | Daxis


Meaning: People of the Mountains

Language: Spanish based on Ute

Zion National Park photo
Flickr | Matt Machin


Meaning: Green Mountain

Language: French

Vermont photo
Flickr | Richard Ricciardi


Meaning: Country of the Virgin

Language: English

Virginia arlington photo
Flickr | TexasExplorer98


Meaning: Home of the First President

Language: English

Flickr | MooseNut12

West Virginia

Meaning: West of the Country of the Virgin

Language: English

Getty Images


Meaning: River Running Through a Red Place

Language: English/French/Native American

Wisconsin photo
Flickr | newagecrap

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Meaning: At the Big River Flat

Language: Native American origin

wyoming yellowstone national park photo
Flickr | Kyla Duhamel

Updated 8/14/17 to better reflect the etymology of several state names and highlight the conflicting research that exists around the meanings of state names.


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About the Author
Anna Weaver
Anna Weaver is a writer and multimedia journalist from Hawaii. Her two young kids keep her on her toes and hooked on online shopping. Anna’s also a fan of movies, reading, photography, and sharing far too many IG stories about cute dogs and capybaras.

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