What’s in a Name, Florida?

On January 6, 2012 by admin

Florida Names

Sold by Spain to the United States in 1819 – well, not actually sold, rather given away due to a somewhat complicated political situation – Florida gets its name from the Spanish La Florida (pronounced as Florida).

In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was the first European on the record to set foot on what is today Florida. Perhaps he was a romantic soul, for he chose to immortalise the land’s flowers (in Spanish, La Florida means The Flowery, The Land of Flowers). A slightly different explanation adds a religious twist: La Pascua Florida, or The Flowery Easter, could also have been the reason behind the name, as Mr León stepped onto the land during Easter almost half a thousand years ago. Either way, in Florida, flowers it is.

Top names, FL

The name of the state capital – Tallahassee – is derived from a Muskogean language word tvlvhasse, which means Old Town. It’s been the state’s capital city for 188 years, and a settlement for hundreds before that.

Other traces of Muskogean can be found, too: the town of Wauchula may come from wakka (cow) and hute (house), while Weeki Wachee Springs – from wekiwa (spring) and chee (little) – thus, Little Springs.

The early Spanish explorers called Key West, Florida’s westernmost island, Cayo Hueso, or Bone Island (and still do that today), since they found lots of human bones there. These were most likely the remains of the Calusa people, the original inhabitants of the area.

The Calusa had a word Mayami, which means Big Water, or Very Large. That’s probably where Miami comes from.

As for Orlando, the official story is that it honours one Orlando Reeves, who died from an arrow while on sentinel duty for a camping party. Or did it involve Judge James Speer, who named the city after one of his employees? Or perhaps a character from Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It”?

Fort Lauderdale borrowed – and never gave back – its name from Major William Lauderdale, who was fighting in the Second Seminole War, among other wars, in mid-19th century.

St Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent. The name honours Augustine of Hippo, a Roman bishop.

Something borrowed, something new…

The state has its own, Floridian, versions of good old European beauties: St Petersburg, Venice, and Naples were all named after the original cities in Russia and Italy. There are also Latin American echoes in Florida: Panama City is known as it is because it is located in a direct line between Chicago and Panama City in Panama; the Town of Havana is a nod to the capital of Cuba, famously only some 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and its cigars; and Valparaiso (Paradise Valley in Spanish) reflects the beautifully coloured Chilean port.