Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How the Colonies Got Their Names

I think a lot about words and where they come from. Words in general, but also names. And while I knew the story behind the names of quite a few of the original Thirteen Colonies, some others I was unsure of...so I thought it would be fun to dig a bit and share why each of the Colonies was called what it was. We'll go through them in alphabetical order.


This is one I don't recall ever reading about before. The colony of Connecticut was named from the Connecticut River. The river, in turn, is from the Mohegan people's Algonquin word quinnitukqut, which means "long river place"or "beside the long tidal river."


I thought the state of Delaware took its name from another Native American word, but I was wrong! The river, bay, and state are all named for the first governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr. His title is likely from the French de la werre, which means "warrior" (of the war).


While King George sat on the throne of England, a group of philanthropists decided it would be a great idea to create a colony in the New World for debtors who were of sound character but meager purse. As it turns out, debtors were not the ones to settle in the colony, but it nevertheless named itself Georgia after the king who granted its charter.


I had been taught that Maryland was so named because it was created as a sanctuary for the Catholic faith (hence Mary Land), but according to the sources I've been reading for this, that isn't right, LOL. Maryland was named for the wife of King Charles I, who signed its charter--Queen Henrietta Maria. A more likely explanation, I grant you...


Ah, here we have another Native American word. Massachusetts is taken directly from the name of a tribe native to the area, whose name means "near the great hill," referring to the Blue Hills southwest of Boston.

New Hampshire

Not surprisingly, New Hampshire was named for old Hampshire, in England. What I didn't know was that the man who received it a grant and paid for its clearing and developing--John Mason--died before he ever got to step foot on his property.

New Jersey

Another colony named directly after an English region. This one because one of its founders, Sir George Carteret, had served as Jersey's Lieutenant Governor for several years.

New York

As with the other "new" states, this is in honor of York--but not just the English place, more particularly the English personage, James Stuart, Duke of York and future king. The word "York" traces its roots all the way back to Latin and means, quite simply, "city."


Since we all know where the "north" and "south" parts come from, we'll view these two as a whole here. Not surprisingly, Carolina is derived from Charles, or its Latin form, Carolus. What I find kinda funny is that Charles II so named it after his father, Charles I. Convenient that they shared a name, I suppose... ;-)


Another one I knew! Pennsylvania is named after its founder, William Penn. The land was granted to the family to pay off a debt the crown owed to Admiral William Penn, though it was son who took possession of it. But that only explains the "Penn" part. Apparently sylva means "woods" and then they tacked on nia, which means "land." So the name actually means "Penn's woodlands."

Rhode Island

This one comes with a wee bit of controversy. =)  It would seem that the first to call this island Rhode was a Spanish explorer, who was reminded of the Mediterranean island of Rhodes. That wasn't a popular story, though, so the state has stuck with a different one--that the Dutch explorer Adrian Brock called it Roodt Eylandt ("red island") because of the red clay lining the shores, a name which was later anglicized. And finally...


This one I knew and have read about recently in my kids' homeschool curriculum too. ;-) Queen Elizabeth I was the one who granted to Sir Walter Raleigh the charter for this English colony in the New World, and so they named it after her. Because she never married, she was known as the Virgin Queen, hence Virginia.


Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t homeschooling her small kids and writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.


  1. Loved this post! I always wonder these things. As soon as I started reading it, I thought it was by you (but your name wasn't up top) and I was write. You have a great curiosity and research cool stuff, which I enjoy. Appreciate you sharing this with us!!!

    1. I saved my name for the bottom. ;-) Or something like that, LOL. How funny that you can tell it's by me just by subject!

  2. Enjoyed this post so much. Always like to learn facts regarding our nations founding and these names fit right in there. Thank you for sharing.
    Blessings, Tina

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Tina! I always love learning this stuff too. =)

  3. Interesting Roseanna. If I ever knew this info it was long forgotten. I have wondered at them still calling it the New England now tho when it is states of the United States. Thanks for the info. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

    1. Yep, Maxie, all about its origins. I actually really love how we've stuck with all those original names that speak to the founders of these places.

  4. Excellent post. I loved learning more of the history behind the naming of the colonies.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! I had fun learning it too. =)

  5. I believed the Mary Land name came from the Catholic roots as well, Roseanna. This was really fun. OH- I though Delaware came from an Indian name. Wesn't there a Delaware tribe? seems strange to think their name was second hand but of course, it's what the white settlers called them and probably not what they called themselves.


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!