Politics and Culture in the Comic Zone

Daniel Rigney

Daniel Rigney
New Texas, USA
August 01
free-range writer
In this writing workshop and citizen's blog I'm exploring various short forms, often from a satiric angle. My interests include politics, culture and the human comedy; old and new media; social theory and urban life; the commercialization, corporatization and tabloidization of everything; sustainability; Unitarianism (UU); coffee; and writing (sorry, I mean providing content). Turtle stamp is from Tandy Leather. Interested in republishing a piece? Contact drigney3@gmail.com.


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NOVEMBER 14, 2012 12:50PM

Should State Names Be English-Only?

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By Daniel Rigney

Only five states in the United States bear names of English origin. (Can you identify them?*) The other 45 derive their names from non-English sources, including several Native American languages, Spanish, French and (guess which state) Hawaiian. 

The names of our 50 states are historic reminders that our country has always been multicultural. Today, more than ever, we're a swirled nation in a swirled world.

I don’t want be the one to break this news to those in the English Only movement who advocate for laws discouraging linguistic diversity. If they find out how many foreign names our states have, they may try to Anglicize them all, insisting that they be English-only.

News of our etymological diversity may not be welcome among Englishists in states such as Friendship (“Texas”), Fictional Island (“California”), Reddish Color (“Colorado”), or Dugout Canoe (“Missouri”).

Neither is of our multicultural history likely to be embraced warmly by English-only Thicket Clearers (“Alabamans”), Floweries (“Floridians”) or Female Georges (“Georgians,” from a Greek word for  “earthworker” or farmer).

Who will issue the clarion call to the forces of Englishism? Who will alert them to the unsettling historical fact that nearly all of our states have alien names? Certainly not I.


New things have been learned in the making of this article. I’ve learned, for instance, that Arizona is not Spanish for “Arid Zone,” as I had thought, so you’ll find no puns here japing Arid Extra Dry or the intellectual aridity of the Southwest.

I’ve learned that Idaho’s name was probably invented as a practical joke by a guy in Colorado (a certain “Doc” Willing, if that’s his real name), possibly in dubious honor of a girl named Ida. You can look it up.

I’ve found that whether a name’s origin is technically English or not is sometimes a judgment call. Mary-land may sound Englishy, but biblical scholars tells us that Mary is actually an ancient Hebrew name. Jeez, who knew that Maryland is a Jewish name?

Finally, a question for the comic imagination. I’ve learned that the latinate Virginia, “Land of the Virgin” (which is not the state license-plate motto, by the way) honors the putatively chaste Queen Elizabeth I. If she or her reputation had been less chaste, what would the commonwealth have been called instead?

The curious mind never rests.



*Are you looking for the answer? Go to this list of  U.S. state name etymologies and find the buried treasure.




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Interesting: I'm working on a quick post about A Chilling Thought about Texas Becoming Five States... I wonder what names those Good Old Boys and Gals might come up with if the state legislature ever decided to pull that trigger? R&R ;-)
i recommend superimposing a grid, 8 blocks wide by 6 deep. maine-new hampshire area becomes 'a1,' southern cal becomes 'h6.' the savings in key-strokes will be significant, and much easier to integrate into skynet.
The five? New York, New Jersey Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Washington?
Thanks, folks, for your comments. Jmac, I've been to your post on Texas and have left some thoughts there. Nice piece!

Al, your solution to the problem of state boundaries and naming is ingenious. It reminds me of the way MIT names its buildings: with numbers.

DandyLion, good try, and close! According to my source (see link at the foot of my post), Rhode Island is a Dutch name, and Idaho (because the name was invented by an English-speaking American?) is American English.

Many of us in the U.S., however, seem to living in the state of Flux. (Latin: "flowing")
I'd like to see a world without borders like in the John Lennon song. I guess I am just an old peacenik.
California was named by Spanish explorers who arrived in the 1500s after a fictional land in a novel that was popular in Spain at the time.

Colorado is Spanish for "reddish, ruddy, flushed, colored, etc.), and also took it's name from early Spanish explorers.

Nevada is Spanish for the "snow-laden or snowy place."

Montaña is Spanish for "mountain."

Oregón could mean "big oregano bush," but I'm not sure. :)

New Mexico, of course, pays homage to "Old Mexico," and was superimposed over the name "New Spain" after Mexico won its independence from Spain.

Just FYI: In the Southwest, you can take this a step further and strike all of the Spanish names from rivers, valleys, mountain ranges, towns, counties, churches, etc. They all are vestiges of the extensive presence of Spanish-speaking colonizers who settled in the present-day United States well before the English pilgrims.

The oldest church in North America is a Spanish chapel in Santa Fe (which is Spanish for "sacred or holy faith.")

Love our diversity. We've been diverse from DAY ONE in this country. Of course, it all started with the American Indians, who have been here for at least 14,000 years.

Doh. I meant "took its name from ..." in that second sentence about my home state, Colorado!
Wow, Deborah, thanks for the further depth. I've visited the chapel you mention in Santa Fe, and I could agree more with your comment about diversity from Day One -- although, as I think about it, the very first Siberians who came down the coast may not have been so diverse at the time.

And Z, old peaceniks never die. They just very quiet.

Thank you both for stopping by!
This is a very good question, and not because I don't know the answer. I guess who named a state, and/or what is the origin of the name should all enter the equation. I guess we should ask the Brits how does it feels to have one language and one queen. What a question, Daniel; well said. R
Thanks as always, Thoth.