The Surprising Story Behind How Illinois Got Its Name

By Taylor Linzinmeir

September 15, 2022

USA states on map: Illinois
Photo: Getty Images

William Shakespeare didn't take much stake into what goes into a name. In "Romeo and Juliet," the famous writer had Juliet say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet." However, we would beg to differ with Shakespeare on how much a name truly matters.

That brings us to the whole purpose of this article: Have you ever wondered how your state got its name? The names of all the 50 states reflect their histories — From the tribes native of the region, to the European countries who colonized the state. While some state names are unconfirmed or disputed, the vast majority of them have definitive etymologies. Insider graciously compiled a list of how each state got its name. Here's what they found out about the great state of Illinois:

"The Native American word "iliniwok," from which the name Illinois stems, means 'best people,' according to Culture Trip."

According to Culture Trip:

"Illinois was named after the Illinois River, which was named by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in an attempt to map the region’s many rivers and waterways. The French explored the area in the early 1600s and gave names to different villages and rivers based on the things and people they encountered on their explorations. La Salle sailed the river in 1679 and named it after the Native Americans he met who lived on the banks of the waterway."
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