Find Out The Origins And Meanings of Each State Name


The names and origins of US state capitals offer insights into the languages and influences that have shaped American geography. A close look at their translations and origins reveals a depth of meanings derived from Native American languages to European etymology and beyond. Let’s dissect these names and history together and see what they tell us.

Montgomery, Alabama


Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, is named after Richard Montgomery, a distinguished general in the American Revolutionary War. The officer, an Irish indigene, was helpful in the initial stages of the war, leading the Continental Army to several important victories. He is particularly famous for his daring attack on Quebec City in 1775, where he tragically lost his life.

Juneau, Alaska


The capital of Alaska was initially named Harrisburg after Richard Harris, one of two prospectors who made a significant gold discovery in 1880. However, its name later became Juneau, after Joe Juneau, the other prosecutor who also contributed to the area’s history. Today, Juneau is a bustling city serving as America’s largest state’s political and cultural heart.

Phoenix, Arizona


The phoenix is a mythical bird known for its ability to regenerate from its ashes. This symbolism aligns with the Phoenix’s history of resilience and growth, as it has experienced multiple periods of boom and bust throughout its development. The name represents the city’s transformation from a small agricultural community into a thriving metropolis.

Little Rock, Arkansas

Brandon Olafsson/Getty

The capital of Arkansas derives its name from a group of rocks on the southern bank of the Arkansas River, which served as a notable landmark for early explorers. Little Rock gained prominence when it became the capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1821, and it has since become a symbol of the state’s history.

Sacramento, California

Chris LaBasco/Getty

While on an expedition in 1808, the Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga named the Sacramento River “Rio de los Sacramentos,” interpreted as “River of the Blessed Sacrament.” Sacramento later became the name of the confluence city of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The naming honors the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, reflecting the strong influence of Spanish culture and Catholicism in the region.

Denver, Colorado


James W. Denver was a prominent figure in mid-19th-century American politics. Born in Virginia in 1817, he served as the Secretary of State of the Kansas Territory before being appointed governor in 1857. Despite his short tenure, his contributions left a lasting legacy, leading to the naming of the city of Denver in his honor.

Hartford, Connecticut


The first settlers chose Hartfor as an homage to Reverend Samuel Stone, one of the colony’s influential founders, who hailed from Hertfordshire, England. The decision to name the colony after his hometown reflected a connection to their roots. Hartford is now a vibrant city known for its insurance industry, historical institutions, and educational facilities.

Dover, Delaware


Dover, Delaware, takes its name from Dover, a historic town in England. The English Dover is famous for its iconic white cliffs, which serve as a natural defense and symbol of national resilience. While lacking white cliffs, Dover, Delaware, is significant as the state capital, boasting a rich heritage dating back to the early days of the European colony.

Tallahassee, Florida


The name “Tallahassee” originates from the Muskogean Indian words “talwa,” meaning “town,” and “hasi,” meaning “old.” This combination roughly translates to “old town,” reflecting the district’s long tradition and significance in Native American culture. Tallahassee’s rich heritage as an indigenous settlement and its status as Florida’s capital city symbolize historical continuity and cultural diversity within the state.

Atlanta, Georgia


Georgia’s capital city changed its name in 1847 from “Marthasville” to “Atlanta,” inspired by the Western and Atlantic Railroad and reflecting the hope for its emergence as a hub for commerce. Atlanta’s strategic location contributed to its growth, evolving into a pivotal center during the Civil War and later becoming a key player in the Civil Rights Movement.

Honolulu, Hawaii


Honolulu derives its name from the Hawaiian words “honor,” meaning “bay,” and “lulu” meaning “shelter” or “calm.” Roughly translated, it means “sheltered bay” or “place of shelter,” which aptly describes the city’s location. Honolulu serves as Hawaii’s political and economic hub and a historical center, attracting visitors worldwide to its beautiful beaches, historic sites, and diverse culinary scene.

Boise, Idaho


Boise, which translates to “wooded,” aptly reflects the city’s surroundings, characterized by abundant forests and natural landscapes. Set against the backdrop of the Boise River and the Boise Foothills, the town has rich provisions for outdoor recreation, like hiking, biking, and skiing. Boise’s captivating scene, museums, and galleries add depth to its identity as a thriving metropolitan hub.

Springfield, Illinois


The natural springs from which the city gets its name were significant sources of freshwater and gathering places for settlers and the tribal people. The abundance of springs contributed to the area’s attractiveness for settlement and played a vital role in the city’s development. These natural springs are the reason behind the numerous parks that dot the environment today.

Indianapolis, Indiana


The capital city of Indiana derives its name from a combination of “Indiana,” which refers to the Indian locals, and the Greek word “polis,” which means city. Indianapolis became the city’s name in 1821 as a tribute to the region’s Native American heritage and to symbolize the city’s aspirations as a center of commerce, culture, and governance.

Des Moines, Iowa


Des Moines, derived from the French phrase for “of the monks,” goes back to the Trappist monks who settled in the region during the 19th century. These monks, known for their quiet, contemplative lifestyle, established a monastery near the Des Moines River, contributing to the area’s early history and possibly influencing the city’s naming.

Topeka, Kansas


Originating from the Kansa-Osage language, “Topeka” translates to “a good place to dig potatoes,” alluding to the area’s fertile land and favorable agricultural conditions. Topeka’s founding in the mid-19th century was due to its strategic location along the Kansas River, enhancing trade and transportation. Topeka is famous for its vibrant cultural scene and diverse economy.

Frankfort, Kentucky


Frankfort gained its name after Frankfurt am Main, the largest city in the German state of Hesse. Its name pays homage to the homeland of Daniel Boone, a pioneer who played an unforgettable part in the settlement of Kentucky. The decision to name the city thus reflects the early settlers’ desire to establish a connection with European culture and history.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


This capital city derives its name from the French phrase “baton rouge,” meaning “red stick.” This moniker possibly alludes to a red cypress pole that early French explorers used to mark the boundary between tribal hunting grounds. Over time, the area around this marker became known as Baton Rouge, eventually evolving into the state capital.

Augusta, Maine


Augusta gets its name from Princess Augusta, the mother of King George III of England. She was a notable figure in British royalty, known for her intelligence and influence in the royal court. Naming the city thus was a tribute to her status within the palace and her duty in shaping the cultural and political future of 18th-century England.

Annapolis, Maryland


Established in 1649 and named after Princess Anne of Denmark and Norway, Annapolis became the capital of Maryland in 1694. It played a specific part in American history as the site of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which helped end the Revolutionary War, and as the tentative capital of the United States from 1783 to 1784.

Boston, Massachusetts


Founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers, Boston quickly became a focal point of colonial America, playing a significant role in the American Revolution and later becoming a hub of culture, education, and commerce. It derives its name from Boston in Lincolnshire, England, from the Old English word “Botwulf’s stone,” which refers to a nearby saint’s burial place.

Lansing, Michigan

Sean Pavone/Getty

The city took its name from Lansing, New York, which, in turn, acquired its name from John Lansing Jr., a prominent New York lawyer and politician in the early 19th century. James Seymour, who hails from Lansing, New York, chose the name for the Michigan capital and sought to honor his hometown when establishing the new capital in 1847.

Saint Paul, Minnesota


Father Lucien Galtier, a French Catholic priest who established a chapel in the area in 1841, named the city Saint Paul after the Apostle Paul. The city’s name was officially adopted in 1849, reflecting the region’s lasting French Catholic influence. In 1849, Saint Paul became the capital of the Minnesota Territory and later the state capital of Minnesota.

Jackson, Mississippi


Mississippi’s capital derives its name from Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the US and a general in the United States Army. General Andrew gained fame for his role in the War of 1812, particularly for his victory in the Battle of New Orleans. After its establishment, the city received its name in honor of Jackson’s achievements.

Jefferson City, Missouri


Jefferson City received its name from Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, in honor of his contributions to the nation’s founding and unforgettable part in the Louisiana Purchase. The naming took place during a time of admiration for Jefferson’s principles of democracy and his vision for westward expansion.

Helena, Montana


The story goes that while surveying the original town site, the miners wanted to name the new settlement after Saint Babara, a patron saint of miners. However, when they submitted the name, it was misread as “Helena.” Interestingly, Helena, Minnesota, was called after the daughter of a railroad magnate, but it is unrelated to the other Helena.

Lincoln, Nebraska


Lincoln, Nebraska, took its name in honor of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who discharged his duty in shaping the nation’s history during his tenure. The city’s name was selected as a tribute to Lincoln’s leadership, particularly his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War and his commitment to equality and freedom. 

Carson City, Nevada


This city acquired its name from the famed explorer and frontiersman Kit Carson, whose expeditions through the American West left an indelible mark on the region’s history. Carson’s reputation as a skilled scout and trapper made him a notable figure during the westward expansion, and the naming of Carson City serves as a memorial of his legacy.

Concord, New Hampshire

Amy Sparwasser/Getty

Concord, New Hampshire, received its name from Concord, Massachusetts, a homage to the shared ideals of independence and freedom fostered during the American Revolutionary War. This name reflects the profound significance of the Battle of Concord, a pivotal event in American history, where the Revolutionary War effectively began on April 19, 1775.

Trenton, New Jersey


William Trent was an influential figure in colonial America and one of the original proprietors of New Jersey. Trent was a prominent landowner who played a significant role in the region’s development. His involvement in establishing settlements and promoting trade along the Delaware River helped to shape the area’s growth, leading to the town immortalizing his name.

Santa Fe, New Mexico


“Santa Fe” is Spanish for “holy faith.” Founded by Spanish colonists in 1610, the town is the oldest state capital in the US and the oldest continuously inhabited state capital city. The name reflects the deep religious significance of the area to its early settlers, who sought to establish a community based on their Catholic faith.

Albany, New York


The name Albany came from the Duke of Albany, who later ascended the English throne as King James II. Built in the early 17th century, Albany eventually became the capital of New York State in 1797. Its rich history runs from the Dutch colonization of the Hudson River Valley to its role in the American Revolutionary War.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Chansak Joe/Getty

Raleigh, the capital district of North Carolina, received its name after Sir Walter Raleigh, an English explorer, poet, and adventurer. In the Elizabethan era, Sir Raleigh was famous for his sponsored expeditions to the New World, including present-day North Carolina. He established Roanoke Island, the first English colony in North America, in 1585, although the colony ultimately failed.

Bismarck, North Dakota

Allen Allnoch/Getty

Otto von Bismarck was a towering figure in German history and its first Chancellor. Celebrated for his political acumen and diplomatic skill, Bismarck’s leadership fundamentally reshaped Europe during the late 19th century. The choice of naming a region in America after such a prominent figure reflects the admiration and respect felt by its founders for Bismarck.

Columbus, Ohio


Founded in 1812, Columbus owes its name to Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer. Due to its central site, this town became the state’s capital and has since grown into the largest metropolis in Ohio. As a hub for government, education, and commerce, Columbus is known for its diverse economy and renowned institutions like The Ohio State University.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Travis Lloyd/Getty

Oklahoma City, the capital of Oklahoma, takes its name from the Choctaw words “okla,” meaning “people,” and “humma,” meaning “red,” collectively translating to “red people.” It pays homage to the Native Americans, particularly the Choctaw tribe, which initially inhabited the area. Oklahoma City’s history deeply reflects the Native American culture and the Trail of Tears.

Salem, Oregon

Sean Pavone/Getty

The name “Salem” itself has biblical origins, meaning “peace” or “tranquility” in Hebrew, reflecting the settlers’ aspirations for their new community. Founded in 1842, Salem, Oregon, became the capital of the Oregon Territory in 1851 and eventually the state capital in 1859. While Salems share a name, they exhibit a significant divergence in history and culture.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Sean Pavone/Getty

John Harris Sr., an English trader and pioneer, established a ferry service across the Susquehanna River, vital to the region’s development. In 1785, his son, John Harris Jr., laid out the plans for the town, which eventually became Harrisburg. Harrisburg’s expansive growth was due to its strategic location as a transportation hub, particularly during the Industrial Revolution.

Providence, Rhode Island


Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, named it after he sought refuge there following his banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams, a prominent advocate for religious freedom, chose the name in gratitude for what he perceived as God’s merciful providence in providing him and his followers with a haven where they could practice their beliefs freely.

Columbia, South Carolina


The city’s founders chose the name to pay tribute to Christophe Columbus’s historic voyages, which opened the New World to European exploration and colonization. Built in 1786 as South Carolina’s capital, Columbia has grown into a vibrant city known for its rich history, thriving cultural scene, and picturesque surroundings along the Congaree River.

Pierre, South Dakota


“Pierre” is a French word that translates to “stone” or “rock.” Some French explorers noted the presence of conspicuous rock formations along the Missouri River close to Pierre. These formations were landmarks that inspired the area’s name. Due to Pierre’s location along the Missouri River, the town served as a strategic point for trade during the westward expansion.

Nashville, Tennessee


Francis Nash was a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was a prominent military figure known for his bravery and leadership. He played a massive part in the Battle of Germantown but tragically lost his life in 1777. His legacy lives on through the city of Nashville, which owes its name to him.

Austin, Texas


Austin, the capital of Texas, received its name in honor of Stephen F. Austin, sometimes called the “Father of Texas.” Born in Virginia in 1793, Austin led the first successful colonization of the region. He established the first Anglo-American colony in Texas, which laid the foundation for Texas’s eventual independence from Mexico and its annexation by the United States. 

Salt Lake City, Utah

Sean Pavone/Getty

Utah’s capital city, Salt Lake City, took its name from the nearby Great Salt Lake. Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon pioneers, chose the site for the city in 1847, envisioning it as a gathering place for members of the Church. Today, Salt Lake City is known for its stunning mountain backdrop and thriving cultural scene.

Montpelier, Vermont


Derived from the French phrase “Mont Pelé,” meaning “Bald Mountain,” this name likely refers to the nearby hill devoid of trees. After colonizing the area, the settlers anglicized the name to Montpelier. Despite being the smallest state capital by population in the United States, Montpelier boasts a rich history and beautiful surroundings.

Richmond, Virginia


After its establishment in 1737, the town took its name from Richmond, London. The naming was to pay homage to Charles II of England, Duke of Richmond. Richmond, Virginia, holds significant historical importance. It was the Confederacy’s capital during the American Civil War and helped the nation’s early development.

Olympia, Washington


Olympia was a famous town in Greece known for hosting the original Olympic Games in classical times. The naming of Olympia, Washington, reflects a desire to evoke the ideals of classical civilization, emphasizing culture, learning, and athleticism. Built as the capital of the Washington Territory in 1853, Olympia embodies these principles through its rich cultural heritage.

Charleston, West Virginia


Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, acquired its name after King Charles II of England. Charles II, known for his restoration to the throne after the English Civil War and his efforts to stabilize the kingdom, made a lasting impact that extended to the United States through the numerous cities and landmarks named in his honor.

Madison, Wisconsin


James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, was instrumental in drafting the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The area received its name in 1836 during a convention to choose a location for the state capital. James Duane Doty, a foremost politician, suggested Madison in honor of the Founding Father’s contributions to American democracy.

Cheyenne, Wyoming


The Cheyenne people, from whom the capital of Wyoming got its name, were historically nomadic buffalo hunters known for their rich culture. Wyoming’s capital serves as a reminder of the indigenous peoples who once roamed the vast landscapes of the American West. Today, Cheyenne is a capital district hosting events like the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo.


Leave a Comment