The Literal Translation of Places in Canada and the United States

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, and Kansas 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

What do place names in North America mean? In the below map you have a full picture of all the translations of correlating origins of the words from states and provinces. Feel free to embed it in your site (code at the bottom of this article), or share it with your friends. We know so much about certain things that something basic like “what does Illinois mean?” is not in the common knowledgebase. Maybe they should teach these things in schools?


The Literal Translation of the Provinces and Territories of Canada

Canada! Not surprisingly, province placenames in Canada derive more often than not from their indigenous habitants’ languages. Canada has a rich cultural heritage both of its native peoples and those who came from elsewhere in the world. Canadian provinces are notable for their unique names that tell the story of the country in parts, and as a whole.


The Literal Meaning of Every State in the U.S.

U.S. states are notoriously diverse both in history, people, and landscape. It comes as no shock, then, that state’s names have origins as diverse and interesting as the history that defines them. From New York to California and everything in between, it’s either very easy or impossible to guess what the state names mean. Bookmark this map so that you can study what state names mean, and surprise friends at the next party.


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14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Dave
    May 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm — Reply

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

  2. Avatar
    HDG
    July 19, 2017 at 6:19 pm — Reply

    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. Avatar
    i_
    July 20, 2017 at 6:37 am — Reply

    It would be more interesting if it explained from which languages all these names came from.

  4. Avatar
    Peg
    August 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm — Reply

    Love The-Literal-Translation-Of-Places-In-North-America.map. Can a printed copy of this be purchased?

  5. Avatar
    James
    August 4, 2017 at 10:54 am — Reply

    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?

  6. Avatar
    Tim
    August 4, 2017 at 3:43 pm — Reply

    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.

    • Avatar
      sigh
      August 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm — Reply

      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.

  7. Avatar
    Sue
    August 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm — Reply

    This is really interesting. Love the colors you used. Can this be purchased in a poster:

  8. Avatar
    W85
    August 11, 2017 at 3:07 pm — Reply

    Someone needs to re-check this info. Some of them don’t actually even match what’s on the source page you cite.

  9. Avatar
    Jo
    August 12, 2017 at 5:03 am — Reply

    So much have wrong here….

  10. Avatar
    Spanish Speaker
    August 12, 2017 at 10:02 am — Reply

    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.

  11. Avatar
    RadBaron
    August 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm — Reply

    Doesn’t “Labrador” translate from French into “The Arm of Gold”? La Bras D’or

  12. Avatar
    Ajna Pakul
    August 16, 2017 at 11:22 pm — Reply

    “speaks normally” “this is the place” lol

  13. Avatar
    ColoradoChad
    September 11, 2017 at 9:21 am — Reply

    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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