The Literal Translation of Places in Canada & the United States [Infographic]

What’s in a name? A noun, a sense of identity, a form of identification.

The discovery of the “New World” has been written about extensively but what can sometimes be forgotten is how states and areas became known for what they are now.

Many derive from indigenous languages of the Americas. Alaska for example is derived from the Yupik word, “Alyeska”, an idiom from the Aleut people andKansas comes from the Native American Sioux language.

Others come from an individual person — Georgia from King George II and Louisiana from King Louis XIV.

We’ve taken the names of all U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories, and put them into one map along with their translation or origin. They offer a unique insight into the forgotten history of the continent and may teach something new about your home.

The Meaning Behind Names of Places in Canada & the United States
The Literal Translation of the Provinces and Territories of Canada
The Literal Meaning of Every State in the U.S.

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MontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew Jersey
New MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhio
OklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth Carolina
South DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermont
VirginiaWashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

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Motion Graphics & Animation by Square Ship

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  1. Your ‘literal translation’ of Illinois doesn’t even match the source cited. Where did ‘Speaks Normally’ come from?

  2. It is hard to trust what is written when Saguaro cactus is pictured in New Mexico. Saguaros only grow in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and California.

  3. My students will be studying North American History/Geograpgy this year and I would like to know if there is available a printed version of this map or if written permission can be emailed so that I might save this image and have it enlarged?

  4. This is absolutely ridiculous and disrespectful to American Indians. Many names are attributed to “Native American Language” – there is by such thing. Native Americans spoke hundreds of languages not one. Indiana is described as a Native American word for land of the Indians. No Native American tribe ever called themselves Indians. That was a mistake of the Spanish Conquests. Please delete this terrible, unscholarly, demeaning foolishness.

    • What does “Indiana” mean?

      Christened in 1800, “Indiana” means Land of the Indians or Land of Indians. Various American Indian tribes are a significant part of Indiana history, including the Miamis, Chippewa, Delawares, Erie, Shawnee, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Potawatomies, Mahican, Nanticoke, Huron, and Mohegan.

  5. With the exception of Nevada and California, the translation of the rest of the Spanish-derived names makes no sense. For example, Arizona could be translated as “arid zone” (zona árida), rather than “place of the small spring.” A literal translation of Colorado is “blush(ing),” or “red in color,” rather than “sandstone soil” (though I get that sandstone is often reddish). Florida means “flowery.” (Even though the Spanish arrived in Florida around Easter, the word “florida” itself conveys no such meaning). Montana is not “mountainous” but simply “mountain” (montaña). Texas, if the meaning is derived from the actual Spanish, should be translated as “roof singles” or “roof tiles” (tejas). And there is no word in Spanish resembling Utah, so perhaps the name should be attributed to the language(s) of the native Americans of the area, not to Spanish.

  6. I haven’t taken the time to check the other state names, but as others have stated, the name for Colorado means “colored red.” The red sandstone soil of the river now known as the Colorado river was the inspiration for the name, but the name does not mean “sandstone soil.” Clearly the research for this map was haphazard and resulted in a nice looking, but inaccurate map.


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