Special Report

How Each State Got Its Name

Source: DGHayes / Getty Images

Hawaii
> Joined United States: Aug. 21, 1959 (50th state to join)
> Capital: Honolulu
> Population: 1,426,393

There are several theories of how America’s youngest state got its name. One theory maintains that “Hawai’i” is derived from the word “owhyhee,” which means homeland in native Hawaiian. Another theory postulates that the name comes from a combination of the words “Hawa” and “ii” and means a small or new homeland. Still another belief is that the name originates from the Polynesian Hawaii Loa, who discovered the islands, according to an ancient local legend.

Source: SharonDay / Getty Images

Idaho
> Joined United States: July 3, 1890 (43rd state to join)
> Capital: Boise
> Population: 1,753,860

Idaho, a state made famous in a B-52s song, may sound like a Native American name, but the word is made up. “Idaho” was created by mining lobbyist George M. Willing, who insisted it was a Native American Shoshone expression meaning “gem of the mountains” for the area around Pike’s Peak. By the time it was discovered the name was phoney, it was already being used.

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Illinois
> Joined United States: Dec. 3, 1818 (21st state to join)
> Capital: Springfield
> Population: 12,768,320

The Prairie State gets it official name from Native Americans. Illinois comes from “Illiniwek,” which is what the Illini people were called. The name means “best people.” Illinois is the spelling we use for the indigenous people the French explorers encountered in the region in the late 17th century.

Source: Zach Finn / Getty Images

Indiana
> Joined United States: Dec. 11, 1816 (19th state to join)
> Capital: Indianapolis
> Population: 6,782,564

The name “Indiana” means “Land of the Indians” or “Land of Indians.” After the French lost the French and Indian War in 1763, the English took over the territory that would include latter-day Indiana. The new owners of the land sought a new name for the territory, and in recognition of the people who originally occupied it, named it Indiana.

Source: James C. Orvis / Wikimedia Commons

Iowa
> Joined United States: Dec. 28, 1846 (29th state to join)
> Capital: Des Moines
> Population: 3,160,553

The story behind Iowa’s name is a bit complicated. One version claims the name comes from the Iowa river, which was named for the native American Iowas (or Ioways), who were a Sioux tribe. One frontiersman wrote in 1868 that Native Americans encamped by a river were pleased with the location and said in their native tongue “‘Iowa, Iowa, Iowa,” meaning “beautiful.” Members of the Ioway people have a different version of the name. One is the French spelling of Ayuhwa, meaning “sleepy ones.”

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