National Hispanic Heritage Month: Hispanic Influence for the Names of Seven States

In discussing the importance of creating Hispanic Heritage Week (now Hispanic Heritage Month) as noted in the Congressional Record from the House of Representatives dated June 11, 1968, Representative George E. Brown of California indicated that:

“Sometimes we tend to forget that seven of our states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas – bear names of Spanish origin, as does the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  Many of our cities and towns proudly bear Hispanic names, as well.”

Here we explore the origin of the names of the States mentioned by Representative George E. Brown of California. 

Arizona: According to the Arizona State Library, Archives & Public Records, Arizona is a Basque word meaning “The Good Oak Tree.”

California: the name for the State of California comes from the novel “Las Sergas de Esplandián” that was written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in 1510.  In the book, California is a mythical island on the right hand of the Indies that is populated by Amazonians.  Spanish conquistadors, under Hernan Cortez, stumbled upon the peninsula of Baja California and thought they had found the mythical island of California.  California would appear as an Island on maps for years.  The image of California as an island was eventually changed, but the name California remained. 

Colorado: The Colorado State Archives reveal that Colorado is the Spanish word for “colored red.” Anthony Bott, who helped found Colorado City in 1859, believed that the name derived from the proximity to the red rocks found in the area. 

Florida: According to his biography, Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 named Florida in reference to its lush floral vegetation and after Spain’s Easter celebration known as “Pascua Florida” or “feast of flowers.” 

Nevada: Natural, historic, and cultural conservation site State Symbols USA reports that the Spanish named Nevada after “Sierra Nevada”, which means “snow-covered mountain range.” 

New Mexico: in 1598, New Mexico became part of the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain and was named after the Aztec Valley of the Rio Grande River in Mexico, according to online geography resource WorldAtlas.

Texas: The “Handbook of Texas” published by the Texas State Historical Association explains that the word Texas originated from the Native American word “teyhas”, which means friends or allies.  However, as reported by Texas Standard , Spanish researcher Jorge Luis García Ruiz argued that friar Damián Massanet, who led the Spanish mission in the region in the 17th century, used the term “Tejas” to refer to both the Native American tribe known as the Indian Tejas and the place. The name eventually became Texas.


Julio Navarro is a member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey.