Heptune presents:

Heptune's Baby Names for April, 2001

State Names Used as Baby Names, Part I: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas

by Brenna Lorenz

During the 19th Century, Americans commonly gave state names to babies, especially to girls. This practice was particularly common in the South. The use of state names as given names for babies seems to have fallen out of favor in the early part of the 20th Century.

The information about the origin of state names comes from American Place Names by George R. Stewart.

A great many state names were derived from local place names or names of the local indigenous people. Such is the case with Alabama, which originated as the name of a family or tribe within the Creek group of Native Americans. The name was modified by the Spanish, and means "of the Alibamu people." The earliest record I have found for the use of Alabama as a given name is of a male slave born in South Carolina in 1790. He is not only the earliest, but is the only male I have found with the name. For females, the name seems to have reached its peak of popularity in the 1830s and 1840s, and was used by both whites and African-Americans. The most recent example was an African-American woman born in 1904 in Arkansas. Its usage seems to have been exclusively Southern. The short forms, Bama and Bamma, may have persisted in use slightly longer.

Alaska didn't become a state until 1959, and I have found only a couple of 20th Century examples of the use of Alaska for a girl's name. Alaska is an Aleutian word meaning "mainland."

Arizona, according to Mr. Stewart, is the Spanish form of a Papago phrase, ali shonak, meaning "small place of the spring." Its usage as a place name spread from a small locality in Mexico to cover a much larger territory, and was eventually adopted as the name of the state. Its use as a girl's name goes back to the 1890s, and it seems to have reached its peak of popularity in the early 20th Century. I have found only one example of its use as a boy's name.

Arkansas is a French plural form of a Native American tribe name. I have found only two examples of the name being used for girls, both born in Arkansas in the 1840s, shortly after Arkansas achieved statehood.

Alabama
    Diminutives: Bama, Bamma

Arkansas
    Diminutive: Arkie



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