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Graphic Truth: Where do most US state names come from?

map of the United States showing the origin of state names, with many rooted in the language of Native Americans

One is "snow-covered." Another is named for the "virgin queen" of England. A third means "near the great-little mountain." Many of the names of US states come from Spanish, English, and French — the languages of the empires that colonized North America. But by far the greatest number derive from the languages of the Native American peoples who were displaced or killed as part of that sweep of history. Here's a look at where the names of the 50 US states come from.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the graphic mistakenly identified Delaware as being a name of Native American/Indigenous origin. In fact, the state — like the river and bay — was named for the Baron of De La Warr, a British peerage title held by Thomas West, colonial governor of neighboring Virginia. History buffs will note that De La Warr is itself a title of French origin, but insofar as the state was named for a British lord, we have coded it as such.


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