5 Trivia Questions About U.S. State Names

On September 9, 1776, Congress renamed the nation the "United States of America" during its course of daily business.  See how much you know about American history by answering these trivia questions about some of the states and their names.


What State's Legislature Ruled in 1881 That the Last Letter of Their State Name Was Silent? It doesn't take much work to notice that Kansas and the last six letters of Arkansas are the same, but pronounced totally differently. But why is that? A Native American tribe referred to the people who lived in the region we now call Arkansas as the Akansa. Enter the French who made a few adjustments to the word: adding an 's' at the end for pluralization and an 'r' before the 'k' just because. In French, an 's' at the end of the word is silent, so the state came to be pronounced Aransaw. And just so there wouldn't be any confusion, in 1881, the state legislature ruled on the issue, declaring that the 's' was officially silent.

What's an Older Name for Hawaii—And Why Does a Desert Area in the Pacific Northwest Now Use It? # The Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho use the old English spelling of "Hawaii." Photo credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74968. Hawaii (or Hawai'i) was originally called Owyhee, which was just an attempt by English settlers to transliterate the pronunciation they heard into English. The spelling of the name was later changed to Hawai'i after missionaries developed a written language based on the English alphabet, but the older spelling of Owyhee lives on in southeastern Oregon, northwestern Nevada, and Southwestern Idaho in names such as the Owyhee Desert, the Owyhees (mountains), and various building names. When these regions were still being used for trapping in the 1800s, one expedition had three Hawaiian members who unfortunately disappeared. The rest of the expedition named the area after Owhyee in honor of the three. Hawaiians continued to work in the region for many years, resulting in more landforms and structures named after Owyhee.


How Many State Names Are From Native American Languages? Of all 50 states, 26 have names based on non-Polynesian Native American words. Hawaii's name is from its own language, too, so if you include Hawaiian as a native North American language, the number rises to 27. These names were all modified somehow; for example, Texas comes from the Caddo word "taysha" and Alaska comes from the Unangan name "Alaxsxix." One state, Idaho, has a name that is thought to be made up but that a few people tried to pass off as based on either the Shoshone or Apache languages.

What State Got Its Name in Part Due to a Debt Owed by the King? William Penn's father was owed quite a large debt by the king, who decided to repay that debt by granting Penn the land for his new colony. Penn Founded a colony based on his Quaker ideals, promising fair trials, religious freedom, free elections, and no unjust imprisonments. King Charles I decided the land would be called Pennsylvania in honor of young William, which was fine by everyone except William, who felt embarrassed having the place named after himself. But King Charles wouldn't change the name. So Pennsylvania is named after one of the only people in the world who apparently doesn't think it's cool to have a state named after himself. 

Which State Has the Oldest European Name Still in Use in the Country? Occasionally a name sticks, and in Florida's case, that's given the state the honor of having the only European-based state name that hasn't really changed from its original spelling and pronunciation. When Juan Ponce de Leon arrived at the region's shores, he named the area after pascua florida, or Easter flowers, because he landed shortly after Easter. This name has been around since 1513 and hasn't changed, even though the borders of the region using this name certainly did.

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