Places in the United States with Native American meanings

Published 6:00 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

Carol M. Highsmith // WikiMedia

Places in the United States with Native American meanings

The second  Monday in October marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday honoring Native American people and culture. Ever since the first Columbus Day in 1792—and especially since the late 20th century when the observance became an official national holiday—Indigenous people have protested against the holiday, also the second Monday of October. The European colonial settling of America, beginning with Christopher Columbus, resulted in a genocide of Native Americans, with survivors forced to assimilate without rights or citizenship until the early 20th century.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day seeks to reframe the Columbus narrative, positioning Native people in their rightful place as America’s first inhabitants and stewards of the land.  This rethinking of American history gained momentum in the movement to recast Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with many cities and states making the switch. President Biden in 2021 became the first president to officially acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Stacker researched state archives, historical societies, blue books, and government documents to find locations in each state with names rooted in indigenous culture. Keep reading to discover the stories behind well-known locations in your home state.

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Carol M. Highsmith // WikiMedia


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.”

faungg’s photos // Flickr

Alabama: Mobile, Tuscaloosa

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.”

Alan Wu // WikiMedia


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 groups.

Marc Capelleti // Flickr

Alaska: Wasilla, Sitka

The growing city of Wasilla paid homage to a Dena’ina Athabascan local chief called Chief Wasilla when choosing a name. Some believe it means “breath of fresh air” in the local 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 word, 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 state name Arizona is based off of the Tohono O’odham word “Al Shon,” which means “small spring” or “place of the small spring.” Today, 4.5% of Arizona’s population is Native

Ted Eytan // WikiMedia

Arizona: Tucson, Piestewa Peak

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.

Linda Tanner // WikiMedia


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.

Robert Nunnally // WikiMedia

Arkansas: Osceola, Ouachita River

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.


California: Malibu, Truckee, Lake Tahoe

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, a name deriving from the Washoe word meaning “the lake.”

Jason Pawela // WikiMedia

Colorado: Ouray, Pagosa Springs

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 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 Connecticut River, where the Mohegan tribe had lived for a period of time.

John Saginario // WikiMedia

Connecticut: Norwalk, Quinnipiac River

In southwestern Connecticut, the city of Norwalk derives its name from a mispronunciation of the Native American name Naramoke or Naramake. The Quinnipiac River was named by the Algonquin tribes who lived along it for multiple centuries, translating roughly to  “long water land.”

US Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region // WikiMedia

Delaware: Nanticoke River

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.”

Bp0 // Wikipedia


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.

NASA // WikiMedia

North Dakota: Wahpeton, Lake Sakakawea

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.

National Park Service // WikiMedia

South Dakota: Yankton, Lake Kampeska

On the Missouri River lies the city of Yankton, named for the Sioux word “E-Hank-Ton-Wan,” meaning “people of the end village. Glacial Lake Kampeska was also named after a Sioux word meaning “shining shells,” in reference to the bivalve shells that are found along the lake’s shores.


Florida: Miami, Tallahassee, Tampa

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 comes from the Creek word for “sticks of fire,” in reference to the driftwood often found on the shore used as firewood.


Georgia: Chattahoochee River, Savannah, Kennesaw

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.

Anthony Quintano // Flickr

Hawaii: Kaneohe, Waipahu, Kahuku

Located on the island of Oahu, the city of Kaneohe is a native name for “sacred bamboo grove” that was dedicated to the Hawaiian god Kane. Further inland on Oahu is the city of Waipahu, which is compounded from the words “wai” and “pah,” which together mean 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.

“bird woman”

Michlaovic // WikiMedia

Idaho: Pocatello, Nampa, Coeur d’Alene

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 whose name is a mispronunciation of the Shoshone word “nambe” or “nambuh,” thought to mean moccasin but actually translating to footprints. 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.

IvoShandor // WikiMedia


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.


Illinois: Chicago, Pontiac

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, who unified 18 Native American tribes.

Cameronloyd03 // Wikimedia


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.

Chris Light // Wikimedia

Indiana: Kokomo, Tippecanoe River

In the middle of Indiana is the city Kokomo, named for 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 (modern-day carp), a species that thrives in the river.



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.


Iowa: Des Moines, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa

Iowa’s capital city Des Moines is thought to have gotten its name 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.”

Kansas Statehouse // WikiMedia


The state of Kansas was named after the Kanza or Kaw tribe, meaning “people of the Southwind.” Indigenous tribes native to Kansas include the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kansa, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita.

NOAA // Wikimedia

Kansas: Topeka, Osage River

Kansas capital city Topeka is thought to come from a Kaw Word that translates to “a good place to dig potatoes.” In the eastern part of the state, the Osage River is named for the Osage Nation, meaning “people of the middle waters.”



Kentucky’s state name is said to have derived from various Native American languages. The general consensus is that it comes from an Iroquois word “ken-tah-ten,” meaning “meadow place” or “land of tomorrow.”

Rob Holland // Flickr

Kentucky: Paducah

Located on the southern side of the Ohio River, the city of Paducah was named for the Padoucas Tribe in 1827 by famed explorer William Clark. Clark got it wrong, though—the Padoucas Tribe wasn’t living in the area and Clark was actually moving onto land once occupied by the Chickasaw until the Jackson Purchase in 1819 that opened the land up for settlement.

faungg’s photos // Flickr

Louisiana: Ponchatoula, Natchitoches, Houma

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. 

Gkuriger // WikiMedia

Maine: Chebeague Island, Muscongus Bay

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: Chesapeake Bay, Quantico, Wicomico River

Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay gets its name from the Algonquian name “Chsepiook,” 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.

LymanSchool // WikiMedia


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.

John Phelan // WikiMedia

Massachusetts: Chicopee, Fall River

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.”

Ian Poellet // WikiMedia


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.

starscream1211 // WikiMedia

Michigan: Kalamazoo, Saginaw

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.


m01229 // Flickr


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.

Tony Webster // WikiMedia

Minnesota: Minnetonka, Minneapolis

The suburban city of Minnetonka gets its name from the Sioux words “mni tanka” which translates to great water, in reference to Lake Minnetonka. Another “mni” city, Minneapolis is actually a verbal 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.” Many tribes lived throughout the region well into the 1700s, including the Chakchiuma, lbitoupa, Koroa, Ofogoula, Taposa, Tiou, Tunica and Yazoo tribes along the Yazoo River in the Mississippi Delta; the Bayougoula, Houma and Natchez tribes along the lower Mississippi; and the Acolapissa, Biloxi and Pascagoula tribes who lived on the Gulf Coast.

Chris Pruitt // Wikipedia

Mississippi: Pascagoula, Pontotoc

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 bread-eater” or “land of the hanging graps.”



A Sioux tribe called the Missouris inspired the naming of the state. For a while, the name’s translation was thought to mean muddy water, but it actually translates to “the town of the large canoes,” a title influenced by its location along the Missouri River.


Missouri: Tecumseh, Lake Tapawingo

The small town of Tecumseh in Missouri was named for the famous Shawnee 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.

Ken Eckert // WikiMedia

Montana: Missoula, Makoshika State Park

Missoula, a city in western Montana, is believed to have derived its name from the Salish word from Flathead Nation “nmesuletk” meaning icy water—likely a reference to 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.

Kelly DeLay // Flickr


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.

Raymond Bucko // WikiMedia

Nebraska: Pawnee County, Omaha, Mankato

Pawnee County, one of 77 counties in Oklahoma, was named for the Pawnee Nation, a Plains tribe 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.”

Finetooth // WikiMedia

Nevada: Winnemucca, Panaca

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.


New Hampshire: Lake Sunapee, Ossipee

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 12 tribes of the Algonquian.

Zeete // WikiMedia

New Jersey: Hackensack, Manahawkin, Paramus

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.

Atsme // WikiMedia

New Mexico

The original name Mexico is the Aztec word meaning “place of Mexitli,” a god of war and storms. The state is home to 23 indigenous tribes: the Navajo Nation, 19 Pueblos, and three Apaches

edmondo gnerre // Flickr

New Mexico: Taos, Tucumcari

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.

Patrick Theiner // WikiMedia

New York: Manhattan, Poughkeepsie, Skaneateles

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.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region // WikiMedia

North Carolina: Wanchese and Manteo, Lake Mattamuskeet

Two towns on Roanoke Island, Wanchese and Manteo, are named for 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

Nyttend // WikiMedia


Taking its name from the Ohio River, the state of Ohio has a name that is Iroquois in origin, translating to “great river.” Among the largest tribes in Ohio was the Shawnee, believed to have ancestral ties to For Ancient people dating as far back as the 1600s, even before the Iroquois arrived.

Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Inc. // WikiMedia

Ohio: Chillicothe, Lake Erie

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.

kennethaw88 // WikiMedia


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 put together mean “red people.”

Jordanmac // WikiMedia

Oklahoma: Broken Arrow, Wewoka

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 Tullhassee a Creek word for old town.

Bill Johnson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers // Wikimedia

Oregon: Tillamook, Wallowa Lake, Klamath River

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.

Jim Trodel // Flickr

Pennsylvania: Susquehanna River, Punxsutawney, Pocono

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.”

Emyreu // WikiMedia

Rhode Island: Sakonnet River, Quonochontaug

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 its name from “black fish” for the tautog available in the area.


South Carolina: Oconee County, Combahee River

In the northwest corner of South Carolina, Oconee County is Cherokee for “beside the water,” in reference to its location near the Blue Ridge mountains. The short Combahee River was named for the Combahee Tribe, the Muskogean-speaking people who lived along it.



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.

Brian Stansberry // WikiMedia

Tennessee: Chattanooga, Tullahoma

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.

Billy Hathorn // WikiMedia


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.”

Larry D. Moore // WikiMedia

Texas: Waco, Quanah, Wichita Falls

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.

Jon Sullivan // WikiMedia


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.

Ken L. // Flickr

Utah: Kanab, Oquirrh Mountains

Just north of the Arizona state line, the city of Kanab gets its name from a Paiute word meaning “place of the willows.” The Oquirrh Mountains, a mountain range running 30 miles north-south, was named after the Goshute word meaning “wooded mountain.”


Vermont: Winooski River, Bomoseen

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.”

Yangiskan // WikiMedia

Virginia: Poquoson, Chickahominy River

Poquoson is the oldest continuously named city in Virginia, named after the Algonquian term that describes a boundary line between two elevated tracks of land. Flowing through the eastern part of Virginia, the Chickahominy River was named for the Chickahominy tribe who lived near the river.


Washington: Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane

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.”


West Virginia: Wheeling, Kanawha

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.


Wisconsin: Mequon, Milwaukee, Oshkosh

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 Oshkosh.

Greg Willis // WikiMedia


The name for the state of Wyoming is an English misunderstanding of the Lenape word “Chwewamink,” or  “by the big river flat.” Lenape, however, are from Pennsylvania. There are five major Wyoming tribes: Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, and Ute.

Smallbones // WikiMedia

Wyoming: Cheyenne, Shoshone Lake

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,” or wigwams.