This is a map of the U.S., with the literal meanings of its state names and cities.

Alaska becomes "Land Towards Which The Sea Flows."

Idaho is a beautiful "Light on the Mountains."

The West is mostly a list of geographical descriptions--though in the Southwest we get a peak at New Mexico’s "New Navel of the Moon"--so naturally Mexico means the same thing, minus the "new" on it.

Though most of Mexico’s land wasn’t named so lovingly. It’s a dry, prickly place.

Texas, Land of Friends--it sounds so inviting, doesn’t it? Would make a great state slogan.

What’s amazing is that many of the literal names have gone untouched--like West Palm Beach.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from this lot, but I’m leaning toward Illinois, the Land of Those Who Speak Normally.

Who would have thought a state named New Yew-Tree Estate would turn into such a big deal?

Interestingly enough, North and South Dakota carry the "land of friends" monicker like Texas. Anyone know why? It’s one of many historical mysteries that make me realize, while we all use these words every day, very few of us know what they mean.

Infographic: The Literal Meaning Of Every State Name In The U.S.

Washington translates to "Marsh Farm Land, Missouri to "Land of the People with Dugout Canoes." What does your state or city name mean? You may not want to know.

The New Navel of the Moon. It’s so poetic, isn’t it? (And sure, maybe a bit anatomically confusing.) That’s the real meaning behind the state name New Mexico, and it’s one of many etymological gems uncovered by cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust while they were creating this U.S. map depicting the original, literal meanings behind the states and cities we know today.

"The inspiration was my interest in etymology and my profession as a cartographer," Hormes tells Co.Design. "I started to exchange real names for rue names and the world became a strange romantic continent. It’s obvious to me that after five years of changing names on maps, I must do it. No map is safe."

Of course, most state names aren’t nearly as gorgeous as New Mexico’s moon navel. For every Idaho "Light on the Mountains," there is a Missouri "Land of the People with Dugout Canoes." Many states, of course, simply describe geography, which works out well for Mississippi "Land of the Great River" but a bit less elegantly for Washington "Marsh Farm Land."

I ask Hormes if there was a single discovery that was most shocking.

"I found some funny stuff like 'Astrakhan’ in the Wolga delta which means ‘Tax haven for pilgrims,’" he explains. "Once we made a funny map of peculiar place names in German. Place names like ‘Fucking’ or ‘Cats Brain’ changed even my selective perception."

At the U.S. city level, it’s fascinating to see just how many names have gone unchanged. Green Bay. Cedar Rapids. Oakland. Little Rock. They’re all modern names that, when you take a second look, have an old-world appeal. I just wish I could say the same for my hometown of Chicago, which didn’t age so gracefully. It translates to "stink onions."

If you’d like to buy an atlas or map of literal state names, prices start at about $20. And for more infographics on Co.Design, go here.

Buy them here.

[Hat tip: Slate]

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40 Comments

  • Gretchen Heber

    It's entertaining but the fact that you had to break it into multiple pieces to be able to read it speaks to its lack of utility. An illegible infographic isn't of much use.

  • Twofeet

    I love etymological. Words are wonderful treasure chests that need a deeper look :) Love your maps too.

  • Angie Meudt

    Key word: Literal. Not just historical... Let your mind go a little further and see it as entertainment and not something your child will learn in school...

  • John McLaughlin

    Most of these names are baloney, especially when the names are from Native American languages. "Idaho" means "enemy" in Kiowa, "Utah" is probably from Western Apache for "high". You can find accurate information in William Bright, "Native American Placenames of the United States" (2004, University of Oklahoma Press)

  • John tdi

    OK, I will go with Maine being the "land of folks", but Texas being the "land of friends" is far fetched. "Land of bubbas with guns" is more likely.

  • Annabelle Adams

    It WAS land of friends before we had to drive out idiots like you

  • Melody Mains

    Kentucky comes from Indian words for Cain, deer, & Tuck, turkey, the hunting land.

  • Cristina Bauss

    I don't know which map you're looking at, but if it was the German one, that's how apostrophes are in German.

  • Chazer

    montana=Montaña=Mountain
    Arizona=Arid Zone (from Spanish Zona árida)
    Texas comes from the original Tejas in Spanish, which means shingles in English
    Colorado=Red

  • Chris Neverman

    Pennsylvania literally means Penn's Woods. Penn means "head" in Welsh. Dunno where you're getting your info from.

  • Alfredo Faubel

    I like the idea behind this effort, however I must disagree with some of the "conclusions" as they are historically incorrect. For example, Florida does mean blooming (in bloom) in Spanish, but that is not why the peninsula got its name. It was discovered on the day of Pascua Florida, i.e. Easter....

  • Marslander

    Some people here seem a little confused by the names. The creator of the maps is using the etymology of the names. In other words, what the name literally translates to. Yes, Washington was named for president Washington, but the etymology of the name 'Washington' means 'low lying farm land' and yes, Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, but the literal meaning of the name 'Louis' means 'Famous Warrior'.

  • happyskrappy

    Even if this is done via etymology, the etymology of Rhode Island still leads back to the Isle of Rhodes, after which it was named, which is a proper noun, Rhodos, the Goddess of the Isle of Rhodes from Aphrodite and Posideon. Please show me how "red" comes out of that.

  • gurukalehuru

    Rhodo could also mean rose, as in a rhododendron is a rose tree and roses are red, sometimes, so maybe the connection's there. Still, they could have explained that in the article. Also, I agree with you that it's bunk. One negative result of having killed all the Indians is we no longer know their languages and a lot of these names are disputed.