By Linda Rosenkrantz
When it comes to picking a place name for your child, you could consider a continent like Asia, a country like India, a city like Vienna or Verona…or one of the select group of U.S. states that lend themselves to babies’ birth certificates. Here are the Nameberry picks of the best state names and how they came to be—with their mix of Native American, British and French origins.
Alabama ranked just once on the Social Security list, and that was in 1881, when it was Number 944. Right now, though, it’s a hot and sultry Southern baby name option, used by hipsters Drea de Matteo and Shooter Jennings, and by rocker Travis Barker. Zelda Fitzgerald created a character named Alabama in her one novel, Save Me the Waltz, and Patricia Arquette played an Alabama in the movie True Romance.
Carolina—Among the most familiar as a given name, the Carolinas were named to honor King Charles I of England. The softest and most melodic of the Carol names, Carolina now ranks at Number 429 (way behind Caroline), and has been the inspiration of such songs as James Taylor’s Carolina on My Mind.
Dakota—One of two names that are attached to two states, the Dakotas are a sub-tribe of the Sioux Indians and the name translates to mean “friend” or “friendly.” Used for both boys and girls, Dakota ranked in the Top 100 from 1995 to 2000, the high point of relaxed cowboy place names. Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson named their daughter Dakota in 1989; she is now a successful actress in her own right, playing the lead role of Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey. Other notable Dakotas are the singer Dakota Staton and actress Dakota Fanning (shown).
Florida first came to modern notice via the no-nonsense character of Florida Evans first on Maude, and then Good Times. Although rarely heard today, Florida was consistently on the popularity list until 1936, reaching a high point of Number 381 in 1888.
Georgia—Georgia was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies, named in honor of British King George. A beautiful name, redolent with sweet-scented Southern charm, Georgia is a rising star, now at Number 252 in the US and even more popular in countries from Greece to New Zealand, as well as a celebrity fave.
Indiana—Christened in 1800, Indiana means “Land of Indians,” in light of all the tribes inhabited there, including the Chippewa, Erie and Iroquois. The name acquired some modern dash via Indiana Jones (born Henry), and has been used sparingly for both genders. Ethan Hawke chose it for his daughter, and Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck for their son, in honor of her brother River Phoenix, who played the young Indiana Jones.
Louisiana—Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715. When de La Salle claimed the territory drained by the Mississippi River for France, he named it La Louisiane, or ‘Land of Louis.’ The name is rarely used, though it’s a wearable smoosh.
Related possibility flower Magnolia,
Montana—The name Montana derives from the Latin/Spanish word for mountainous. A western place name that had a moment in the sun in the nineties, when it rode into the lower echelons of the pop list, and was used ambisexually by a few celebs.
Nevada—Nevada comes from the Spanish Sierra Nevada, or snow-covered mountain range: it’s the Spanish feminine form of ‘covered in snow’. It’s a cowboyish western place name that has been around for decades—first Alan Ladd and then Steve McQueen played a character named Nevada Smith in the sixties. Neve, which means snow and was used by Conan O’Brien, is heard more often.
Tennessee—The name probably derived from a Spanish explorer passing through a Native American village called Tanasqui, and/or later British traders encountering a Cherokee town named Tanasi. The modern English spelling came about in the 18th century. Its meaning might be “meeting place” or “winding river.”
One of the first uses of Tennessee as a name came about when playwright William Lanier Williams adopted it as his nom de plume and then singer Tennessee Ernie Ford attached it to the front of his name. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when Reese Witherspoon chose it for her son: it was a tribute to her mother’s home state.
Virginia—Site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, Virginia was named after Queen Elizabeth I, known as the Virgin Queen, and was the name given to the first child born of English parents in the New World. Virginia has been something of a neglected classic in recent decades, after being a Top 10 name in the 1920s, and in the Top 100 until 1959. Definitely due for a comeback.
Related possibility: the city of Alexandria