Since 1990, November has been celebrated as Native American Heritage Month in the United States, in reverence to the history of the country’s earliest settlers. Their intimate knowledge and deep respect for the land is reflected in the words and names they used to describe it, many which have carried over into numerous states, cities, and landmarks of today.
In honor of the month, Stacker researched state archives, historical societies, blue books, and government documents to find places in each state whose name originates from Native American influences.
Wherever you are in the country, there’s an attraction or town that was influenced by Native American culture. Read on to discover these historic locations in every state.
The state of Alabama was named after the Alabamu tribe, a noted southern nation that resided in the central part of the state. The name uses the Choctaw language and is made up of two parts, the first “alba” meaning a thick or mass vegetation and the second “amo” meaning to clear, collect, or gather up. Together it can be interpreted to mean "one who clears the land for agricultural purposes."
In Alabama, the impact of the great Choctaw tribe and their language is seen in names throughout the state. The city of Tuscaloosa was named after the legendary “Black Warrior” chief, and his legacy carries on in the neighboring Black Warrior River. The city of Mobile also derives its name from the Mobile tribe, whose tribe name is the Choctaw word “meoli,” meaning "the rowers."
The name Alaska comes from the Aleut tribe and their word “alyeska.” When translated, it means "great land," drawing inspiration from the state’s vast landscapes. The Aleut people originally inhabited western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands and are one of the five major Native Alaskan groupings.
The growing city of Wasilla paid homage to Chief Wasilla, a respected Dena’ina Athabascan local chief, when choosing their name. Some believe it means “breath of fresh air” in Dena’ina Athabascan dialect, while others debate it is a variation of a Russian name. If you head farther south, you’ll find the city and borough of Sitka, a Tlingit phrase, which takes the very literal translation of "people on the outside of Baranof Island."
Although the exact origin is still debated, it is believed that the Spanish coined the state name Arizona based off of the Tohono O’odham word “Aleh-zon” or “Ali-Shonak,” which means "small spring" or "place of the small spring". Today, 4.4% of Arizona's population is Native American.
The mountainous city of Tucson is named after the Tohono O’odham word used for Sentinel Mountain, “ts-iuk-shan,” meaning "black base". It references the base of the mountain being darker than its summit. Another mountain in Arizona, Piestewa Peak, was named after a member of the Hopi tribe, Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil.
The state of Arkansas gets its name from the Quapaw tribe and means “people who live downstream.” The French named the countryside in their honor after encountering them in the Mississippi River Valley.
Located on the Mississippi River, Osceola was named after the Seminole tribe’s Chief Osceola, known for leading the fight against the U.S. government as they attempted to remove the Seminole from their ancestral land. A different tribe, the Washita, influenced the naming of the Ouachita River, whose name means "river of good hunting grounds" for its well-known fishing stock.
A large number of indigenous people settled along California’s coast. The name Malibu comes from the Chumash people’s word “humaliwo” meaning "where the surf sounds loudly". Further north is the city of Truckee, whose name originates from a Paiute Chief who greeted travelers with the phrase “tro-kay,” meaning everything is alright. It was misinterpreted to be his name, and the travelers named the town Truckee in his honor. Close to Truckee is Lake Tahoe, whose name comes from the Washoe word meaning "big water," after the lake’s immense 22-mile length and 12-mile width.
The nomadic hunter-gatherers known as the Ute tribe reside in Colorado to this day and had great influence over the naming of places in the region. The city of Ouray was named after the highly respected Chief Ouray of the Ute tribe. The town of Pagosa Springs was also named after the Ute word for "healing waters" in reference to the hot springs used by Native Americans as a meeting place.
Connecticut’s name originates from the Mohegan word “quinnehtukqut,” which translates to "long river place" or "beside the long tidal river." This was in reference to the now Connecticut River, where the Mohegan tribe had lived for a period of time.
The Nanticoke River was named for the Nanticoke people who lived on the river and were accomplished canoeists. Nanticoke translates to "those who ply the tidal stream" or "tidewater people."
The Dakota territory, which during the time it was named included both North and South Dakota, was named after the Sioux tribe’s word for allies or friends. Although both states were admitted into the Union separately, neither changed the name from Dakota.
The southeastern city of Wahpeton was named for the Wahpeton tribe. The name is a Sioux word meaning "dwellers among the leaves". The man-made reservoir Lake Sakakawea was named after the woman who most of the country knows as Sacagawea, member of the Shoshone tribe. Her name translates to "bird woman" in the Hidatsa language.
Sitting right on the water of the southeastern tip of Florida, the city of Miami was named after the Tequesta word “mayami,” which translates to big or sweet water. The capital of Florida, Tallahassee also has a name of Native American origin, coming from the Creek word meaning "old town". And then there’s Tampa on the gulf whose name either comes from the Creek word for "near it", referencing its location by the bay, or the Creek word for "split wood for quick fire" in reference to the driftwood often found on the shore used as firewood.
On the border of Georgia flows the Chattahoochee River, which the Creeks named from the words “chat” meaning stone and “ho-che” meaning marked or flowered. On the coast, the city of Savannah was named after the Savannah River, whose name comes from a band of Shawnee natives known as Savana. Closer to Atlanta, the city of Kennesaw got its name from the Cherokee word “gah-nee-sah” meaning burial ground or cemetery.
Located on the island of Oahu, the city of Kaneohe is a native name for "bamboo man" that comes from the tale of a figure that resided in the area. Further inland on Oahu is the city of Waipahu, which is compounded from the words “wai” and “pah,” which together means to "burst" or "gush forth". This is in reference to the spring waters here that drew native islanders to the area. On the northern tip of Oahu, the city of Kahuku derives its name from “kahu” meaning guardian and “ku” in reference to the ancient Hawaiian god Ku.
There exists some debate about whether or not Native Hawaiians, who call themselves Kanaka Maoli, are considered Native Americans
The largest city in Bannock County, Pocatello is named after the Shoshone leader Pocatello, although the origin of his name is unknown as it is not a Shoshone word. Close to the eastern border of Idaho lies Nampa, a city named after a mispronunciation of the Shoshone word “nambe” or “nambuh,” thought to mean moccasin but actually translating to foot. The city and Lake Coeur d’Alene comes from the Coeur d’Alene tribe whose name was given to them by French trappers and traders and translates to the "heart of the awl" because of their high skills in trading.
Illinois is a French spelling of the Native American word “Illiniwek.” This is the tribal name of the Illinois nation and is thought to mean men or warriors. However, some believe the state’s name comes from the Illinois word “irenweewa” meaning "he speaks in the ordinary way". An Ojibwa tribe was said to have taken this word and used it as their name, but in their language it got morphed into “ilinwe,” which is how the French learned it.
Sitting on Lake Michigan, the city of Chicago derives its name from the Miami-Illinois word “shikako" or "shikaakwa” and means "skunk place" in reference to the native wild onions that grew there. A bit further south is the city of Pontiac, which was named in order to honor the great Ottawa tribe chief, Chief Pontiac, the unifier of 18 Native American tribes.
After the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy traded land making up present-day Indiana, the settlers followed the trend of naming land in the style of Bulgaria, land of the Bulgars, and Virginia, land of the Virgin (Queen) by naming it as the land of the Indians.
In the middle of Indiana is the city Kokomo, named after Chief Kokomo, of the Miami natives. However, there is much speculation about who Kokomo really was and his character. Another place the Miami tribe influenced was the Tippecanoe River, whose name derives from the Miami word for buffalo fish, a species that thrives in the river, or what we today call carp.
The state name Iowa comes from the Native American tribe of the same name. The Iowa or Ioway tribe resided in Eastern Iowa at one point, and Iowa City, Iowa River, and Iowa County are all named after them. The word Iowa is a French spelling of the word “ayuhwa,” meaning "sleepy ones", and was given to the tribe by the Dakota Sioux in jest.
The capital of Iowa, Des Moines, is believed to be derived from the Peoria word “moingona” referencing burial mounds near the banks or from the name of the Trappist Monks (moines de la Trappe) who lived in huts at the mouth of the river. The Des Moines River influences another city’s name, as it runs through the city of Ottumwa, whose name comes from the Algonquian word meaning “rippling waters.” Oskaloosa is a town in Iowa that was named for the Creek princes Ouscaloosa, which means "last of the beautiful".
The state of Kansas was named after the Kanza or Kaw tribe, meaning "people of the Southwind.
The exact origin of the word Kentucky is unknown, as it is said to have derived from various Native American languages. However, the general consensus is that it comes from an Iroquois word “ken-tah-ten,” meaning "meadow place" or "land of tomorrow. "
Located on the southern side of the Ohio River, the city of Paducah was named for the Padoucas Tribe by famed explorer William Clark.
The small city of Ponchatoula has a Choctaw name that means falling, hanging, or flowing hair. This was their way of expressing the beauty of the location because of the moss hanging from the trees.
The island town of Chebeague Island derives its name from the Algonquian word for separated place, referring to its separation from the mainland. Muscongus Bay has a similarly literal translation and is an Abenaki word for fishing place. This still holds true today, with the bay being covered in lobster traps.
Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay gets its name from the Algonquian name “Chesepiook,” which translates to "the great shell-fish bay" because of the large amounts of crabs, oysters, and clams found in the waters. The small town of Quantico is named after a Native American word of unknown origin that possibly means dancing or place of dancing, and the river that Quantico lies on, the Wicomico River was named after the Wighcocomoco (Wicomico) people who lived along the river.
The Massachusset tribe who lived south of Boston provides the inspiration for Massachusetts’ state name. The word Massachusett roughly translates to at or about the Great Hill, based on the tribe’s location in the Blue Hill region.
The city of Chicopee is located on the Connecticut River, and its name comes from the Algonquian word meaning violent waters, describing the river that runs by it. Another city named from a river in Massachusetts is the city Fall River. Fall River was named after the QueQuechan River (named by the Wampanoag) that is nearby and translates to “falling water or river.”
Michigan gets its name from the French version of the Chippewa tribe’s word “michigama.” This word translates to the great or large lake, in reference to Lake Superior where Chippewa people formerly resided.
Located in southern Michigan, the city of Kalamazoo comes from a Native American word whose exact origin is still unknown. Some say it means bubbling or boiling water while others say it means "mirage of the reflecting river." Moving up to central Michigan, the city of Saginaw comes from a Chippewa word meaning land of the Sauks, a tribe that dominated eastern Michigan.
The word Minnesota is made up of two Sioux words, “mni” and “sota,” which when combined together translates to "cloudy water" or "sky-tinted water," referring to the Minnesota River.
The suburban city of Minnetonka gets its name from the Sioux word “mni” and “tanka” which translates to great water, in reference to Lake Minnetonka. Another “mni” city, Minneapolis is actually a mashup of the Sioux word for water and the Greek word “polis” meaning city. Water city is an appropriate name given the Mississippi River, Minehaha Falls, and 22 lakes are all within the city limits.
Translating to "great river" or "father of waters," Mississippi’s name is the French version of the Ojibwe name “msi-ziibi.”
The city of Pascagoula comes from a Choctaw word that means "bread-eater," and Choctaw Native American tribes who have taken on the name are referred to as bread nation. Farther north is the county and small city of Pontotoc, whose name is Chickasaw for "cattail prairie" or "land of the hanging grapes."
A Sioux tribe called the Missouris inspired the naming of the state. For a while, the translation of their name was thought to mean muddy water, but it actually translates to "the town of the large canoes," a name influenced by their location along the Missouri River.
The small town of Tecumseh in Missouri was named after the famous Shawnee chief, Chief Tecumseh. There are multiple other places across the country named in his honor. Lake Tapawingo, both the name of the lake and city, takes its name from a Native American word that means beautiful water or beautiful place.
Missoula, a city in western Montana, is believed to have derived its name from the Salish word from Flathead Nation “nmesuletk” meaning icy water. This could be in reference to the Glacial Lake Missoula. The largest of Montana’s parks, Makoshika State Park, is of Lakota origin, with the phrase “makoshika” meaning bad land or earth.
The name for Nebraska comes from the Oto tribe, semi-nomadic people who moved along the Missouri River. Their word, “Nebrathaka,” means flat water and was the name they gave the Platte River.
Pawnee County, one of 77 counties in Oklahoma, was named after the Pawnee Nation, a Plains tribe who is still headquartered in the area. On the bank of the Missouri River, the city of Omaha gets its name from the Omaha tribe whose name means upstream people. Close to the Minnesota River, the city of Mankato was named after the Sioux word “ma-ka-to” meaning blue earth.
Winnemucca, a small city in Nevada, was named after a local Northern Paiute chief. His daughter, Sarah Winnemucca, became a well known Native American advocate. Another small city, Panaca, was named for the Southern Paiute word “pan-nuk-ker,” meaning metal, money, or wealth. This references the rich ore that was found in the hills nearby.
Lake Sunapee’s name comes from the Algonquin word “suna” meaning goose and “apee” meaning lake. Together they translate to Goose Lake, in reference to the lake being a favorite spot for wild geese. The town of Ossipee gets its name from the Ossipee nation, one of the twelve tribes of the Algonquian.
The Lenape tribe inhabited New Jersey long before Europeans arrived, where one tribe called the Achkinheshcky influenced the naming of the city of Hackensack. “Achkinheshcky” translates to the mouth of a river. The town of Manahawkin near the seaboard of New Jersey is named after a Lenape word either meaning land of good corn or fertile land sloping into the water. The borough of Paramus also comes from a Lenape word “peramsepuss,” which means land of the wild turkeys.
The original name Mexico is the Aztec word meaning "place of Mexitli", a god of war and storms.
A town in northern New Mexico’s high desert, Taos was named after the peaceful Taos Pueblo nation who inhabited the area and their towering pueblo structures. Closer to the eastern border, the city of Tucumcari is believed to have derived its name from a Plains tribe term, possibly Comanche, that means lookout point or signal peak. The Tucumcari Mountain was frequently used as a Native American lookout.
Manhattan is believed to be derived from a Munsee Delaware word meaning "a place for gathering the wood to make bows", due to a strand of hickory trees there that were perfect for building bows. Further upstate, the city of Poughkeepsie gets its name from the Wappinger tribe word for "red covered lodge by the little water place," due to its location on the Hudson River. Even further north on a grouping of lakes is the town of Skaneateles, which comes from an Iroquois word “skeh-ne-a-lies,” translating to long lake.
Two towns on Roanoke Island, Wanchese and Manteo, are named after two Native American chiefs. Wachese of the Roanoke Native American Tribe and Manteo of the Croatian Tribe both played a large role in establishing Anglo-Indian relations in Roanoke. The largest natural lake in North Carolina, Lake Mattamuskeet was named by the Algonquian tribe and translates to dry dust, referencing the forest they hunted in that once grew where the lake lies
Taking its name from the Ohio River, the state of Ohio has a name that is Iroquois in origin, translating to "great river".
The city of Chillicothe comes from the Shawnee word “chalagawtha” meaning "principal place". Whenever a village was called Chillicothe it was the home to the principal chief and was the capital of the Shawnees until the death of that chief. Heading north, Lake Erie was named after the Native American tribe, the Eries, who lived on the lake’s southern shores. “Erie” translates to "cat" or "lake of the cat," which people attribute to the wildcat or panther.
A Choctaw Nation Chief was said to have suggested the name Oklahoma during treaty negotiations. The word Oklahoma comes from two Choctaw words “okla” and “homma,” which together mean "red people".
Named after the translation of a Creek word, the city of Broken Arrow was called so by the Creek tribe because they would break branches off of trees to make their arrows instead of cutting them. The city of Wewoka in the middle of Oklahoma comes from a Seminole word meaning "barking water", inspired by the steady rush of water from the nearby falls. On the Arkansas River, the city of Tulsa is actually a contraction of Tulhassee, a Creek word for old town.
The coastal city of Tillamook was named after the Tillamook people whose name in Chinook means "the people of the Nekelim". Wallowa Lake, both a lake and state park, derives its name from the Nez Perce tribe and means "fish trap". Flowing through Oregon to California, the Klamath River gets its name from the Chinook word “tlamtl,” which means swiftness.
Although the precise origin of Susquehanna River’s name is uncertain, it 's suspected to come from John Smith's interpretation of the local people's name or a corruption of the Susquehannock word “Queischachgekthanne” meaning "the long crooked river." More certainly traced back, the borough of Punxsutawney was named by the Lenape as “ponsutenink” and translates to the town of the sandflies. The Pocono mountain, lake, township, and creek in Pennsylvania is a Lenape word as well and means "a stream between mountains."
In Rhode Island, the Narragansett tribe controlled most of the region up until the arrival of Roger Williams and had significant naming influence across the state. The Sakonnet River, meaning “haunt of the wild black goose,” serves as a saltwater strait just east of Aquidneck Island. Across the state in the southwest, the small village of Quonochontaug (“Quany” for short) derives its name from “black fish” for the tautog available in the area.
Despite debate as to what the name Tennesse means, there is agreement on the state name having evolved from Creek and Cherokee words. While some suggest it means meeting place, another popular translation is bends, as in the bend of a river.
The city of Chattanooga along the Tennessee River gets its name from a Creek word meaning "rock rising to a point." This refers to Lookout Mountain, whose base begins in the city. More centrally located, the city of Tullahoma is believed to have gotten its name from a word in the Choctaw language meaning "red rock" or from a horse who was named for a Choctaw chief.
The state of Texas gets its name from the Native American Caddo language and the word “teyhsas,” which means friends or allies. This translation is incorporated into the state motto of Texas, which is simply “friendship.”
Waco derives its name from the Hueco, or Waco, a tribe who originally resided in the area. The significantly smaller city of Quanah was named after Chief Quanah Parker, a famed Comanche chief. The northern city of Wichita Falls gets its name from a legend of a Comanche woman testing the river’s depth and describing it as “wichita,” or waist-deep.
There are two theories as to how Utah got its name. The first is that the word Utah originates from the Native American tribe Ute, which translates to the people of the mountains. The second is that it originates from the Apche word “yuttahih” meaning one that is higher up.
Running through northern Vermont, the Winooski River comes from the Abenaki word “winoskik” meaning "wild onion." This was in reference to the wild leeks and onions that were common along the river banks. The name of a state park, town, and lake, Bomoseen is also an Abenaki word for "keeper of the ceremonial fire."
Surrounded by water in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle was named after a Duwamish leader, Chief Si’ahl, who befriended early settlers. Just south of Seattle, the city of Tacoma was named by the Puyallup, a group of Native American fishermen, and their word for white mountain. Heading east, the city Spokane takes its name from the Spokane tribe whose name means "children of the sun" or "sun people."
The city of Wheeling’s name comes from the Lenape term “wih link” that means "skull" or "place of the head," a reference to the beheading of a party of settlers. West Virginia’s most populous county, Kanawha County, comes from the Kanawha tribe that once inhabited the area and is debated to mean "new water," "place of white stone," and several other origins.
Originally called “Meskonsing” by the Miami tribe, Wisconsin is the English interpretation of the word and means "river running through a red place." This was in reference to the now Wisconsin River, stretching for 430 miles.
Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the city of Milwaukee is believed to get its name from the Potawatomi word “mahn-ah-wauk,” meaning 'council grounds.' Just north is the city of Mequon, whose name comes from the Chippewa word “miguan,” which translates to ladle in reference to a nearby lake that is similarly shaped. Continuing north, the city of Oshkosh gets its name from the Menominee Nation of Native Americans and one of their leaders, Chief Oskosh.
The name for the state of Wyoming may be adopted from two Lenape words, “mechawaemi-ing” or "maughwauwama," translating to "at the big plains" or "on the great plain".
Cheyenne, the capital city of Wyoming, was named for the tribe originally called Shey' an' nah' that roamed the area. They belonged to the Algonquian tribe, one of the largest in North America. Within Yellowstone National Park is the Shoshone Lake named after the Shoshone people in the area, believed to be a Sioux expression meaning "grass house people" or "those who camp together in wickiups."