Quiz: How Did States Get Their Names?

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Holly Hildreth/Getty Images
Holly Hildreth/Getty Images

What does "Massachusetts" mean? Why are there two Dakotas when one would have been plenty? Find out what you really know about the names of America's states and where they originated with our quiz.

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QUESTION 1 OF 10

Who named Florida "the land of flowers"?
Hernando Cortes
Juan Ponce de Leon
When Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the dangling portion of America in 1513, he dubbed it "Florida," or the "land of flowers" — not because there were daisies and lilies everywhere, but because it was the Easter season (Pascua Florida in Spanish).
Christopher Columbus

QUESTION 2 OF 10

"Massachusetts" essentially harks back to which sort of geographical feature?
fjord
hill
The word "Massachusetts" is an Algonquin word that basically means "large hill place." Other sources tweak the meaning a bit, but it always comes back to the fact that Massachusetts is, topographically speaking, one lumpy place.
volcano

QUESTION 3 OF 10

What does the name "Idaho" mean?
"Jewel of the West"
"Potato Masher"
No one knows.
As with so many geographical names in the U.S., Idaho has vague origins. Although there are claims that it is a Native American word, this has never been proven. Some historians now believe it is a made-up word.

QUESTION 4 OF 10

Which of the following state names essentially means "mountain"?
Kansas
Georgia
Montana
This should've been easy. Montana was admitted to the Union as a state in 1889. The western half of the state boasts the jagged Rocky Mountains, the feature that inspired the name Montana, which springs from the Latin word "montanea" which means "mountain."

QUESTION 5 OF 10

Which of the following states was named for a French king?
California
Iowa
Louisiana
In 1682, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier decided to claim all the area drained by the Mississippi River, from what's now Mobile Bay, Alabama, all the way to the Canadian-U.S. border, for King Louis XIV of France. Part of these lands eventually became known as Louisiana.

QUESTION 6 OF 10

During which era did Virginia split into two separate states?
American Revolution
American Civil War
In 1863, many citizens in the western part of Virginia didn't want to be part of the Confederacy. So they broke off and formed their own state, which was admitted to the Union side.
War of 1812

QUESTION 7 OF 10

"Michigan" is derived from a Native American word that means "large ______."
lake
Michigan is the 10th most populous state in America. Its name comes from "mishigamaa," a word from the Ojibwe tribe that means "large lake" or "large water."
swamp
hill

QUESTION 8 OF 10

In the 1770s, British explorer James Cook encountered the Hawaiian Islands. What did he name them?
Hamburger Islands
Sandwich Islands
Cook was probably the first European explorer ever to see Hawaii. He named the area "Sandwich Islands," after the Earl of Sandwich, and not because of a favorite lunchtime meal.
Hot Dog Islands

QUESTION 9 OF 10

Finish the original name of this state that was once part of Mexico: Coahuila y ____
Texas
Compared to most other states, Texas has a very complicated history, in part because of its location. For a while, it was Coahuila y Texas, part of Mexico. Then it became a sovereign republic for a decade, until finally it became a U.S. state in 1845.
California
Arizona

QUESTION 10 OF 10

Why is there a North Dakota and a South Dakota?
It was one state that split because people in two different parts didn't like each other.
It was a Republican strategy to boost numbers in Congress.
While all of these answers have some truth to them, historians think the primary reason for the split in Dakota territory was to help the Republican President Benjamin Harrison. Adding two new states (as opposed to one) gave the House a Republican majority.
Citizens couldn't decide where to put the state capital.

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