Curious histories lie behind names of American states, cities

| September 2006

  • Colorado-River.jpg
    UNEXPECTED: The Colorado River, near Page, Ariz., also runs through Idaho, and almost leant its name to that state.
    CAPPER'S Library
  • Mountains.jpg
    Nevada was named after the Sierra Nevadas - but most of that snow-covered mountain range lies in California, including the mountains.
    CAPPER'S Library

  • Colorado-River.jpg
  • Mountains.jpg

Bug Tussle, Ala., Igo, Calif., and Peculiar, Mo. We have given our towns and states some unusual names.

This has been happening for hundreds of years. For example, when explorer Ponce de Leon came searching for the fountain of youth in 1513, he landed in what is now Florida. When he and his men first spotted land on April 2, they searched for an appropriate name. The ship's chaplain reminded de Leon that it was the Pascua Florida - or the Feast of Flowers. The name 'Florida' stuck, and it is the oldest place name of European origin still in use in our country today.

When Columbus came to America, he thought he had reached the portion of Asia known as the Indies. Until his death in 1506, he insisted that was where he had been. John Cabot, another early explorer, sailed into what is now the Canadian province of Newfoundland in 1497, and he reported to his sponsors that he had reached China.

In 1501, explorer Amerigo Vespucci called America a 'new world,' and Martin Waldseemuller, one of his admirers, published a map in 1507 calling the continent 'America' (the feminine form of 'Amerigo'). The name was by no means settled, though.

In 1776, our country was referred to in the Declaration of Independence as the 'United States of America.' However, there were many who thought that name was too long and cumbersome.

Two contenders for the name of our country were 'Columbia' (the popular favorite) and 'Fredonia,' which was the Latin word for freedom. Washington Irving, one of the best-known writers of the time, suggested 'Appalachia' or 'Allegania.' None of these names took hold, however, and by 1800 the use of 'United States of America' was established.

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