How did Arizona get its Name?

Excerpt from Arizona Adventure by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.

Arizona State MapThe name Arizona comes from the Papago “ali-shonak” meaning “small spring.” The name became popular following the discovery of rich lodes of silver “so pure you could cut it with a knife,” some 25 miles southwest of present-day Nogales in 1736.

The word was ultimately corrupted into “Arizona.” The silver didn’t last long, but the world now knew of the fabulous planchas de plata (sheets of silver) and Arizona. Still, the area was known officially as New Mexico or yet “Terra Incognita” during the years of Spanish and later Mexican control. New Mexico became a part of the United States following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and Arizona remained a part of New Mexico.

The compromise of 1850 brought New Mexico into the union as a territory. Shortly after the citizens in the western part of New Mexico began clamoring for separate status. Several names were suggested including “Arizona” and “Gadsonia,” the latter to honor James Gadsden, the man who had negotiated the purchase of land south of the Gila River in 1853. The name “Arizona” won out and in 1863 there was, at last, a real Arizona.


    • Bonnie Hayes says

      I was thinking the SAME thing today,lol. I was looking at a bottle of Arizona tea and the thought occurred to me “Arizona…arid zona/zone” I live in AZ so I thought it may be beneficial to learn the true meaning.

  1. says

    THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME “ARIZONA.” In recent years there has been another theory on the origin of the name, “Arizona”. Don Garate, Chief of Historical Interpretation for Tumacacori National Historical Park, makes a strong case for the Basque origin of the word. Arizona is a combination of the words aritz (oak) ona (good), or “Good Oak.” There were large numbers of Basque living in the area, including Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, the most famous soldier, statesman and trailblazer of his time. And there is an abundance of oak trees.

    The most overwhelming argument for Garate’s theory is the number of other locations in South America bearing the name Arizona. He notes at least a dozen other places in the New World with the name Arizona. There were large numbers of Basque living in all those areas, and an abundance of oak trees giving credence to the theory that the word Arizona was Basque, rather than Tohono Oodham.

    Since he wrote the article, several people have contacted him with new reasons to support his thesis. The most overwhelming being the number of other locations with this name:

    Two towns in Argentina, 6 in Brazil, 3 in Columbia, 2 in Honduras. Spanish and Basque are in all those areas, but Tohono Oodham did not travel that much.

    In 1973 Bill Douglas head of Basque Studies at U of Nevada in Reno wrote on this but Dr. Charles Polzer editor of the Journal of Arizona History refused to publish it. In 1999, Bruce Dinges felt confident enough in Garate to publish another article in an article of the Journal of Arizona History, Summer 2005, entitled “Arizonac, Twentieth Century Myth.” Again in this article, he makes an excellent case for the Basque origin, pointing out that Kino listed hundreds of Tohono Oodham names in his maps of the area, but the word Arizona never shows up until after the silver discovery in 1736.
    I have been to the site of the ranch house where the many letters were first addressed with that name, and can attest that it is indeed a very wet area, drainage from the mountains, 18 miles southwest of Nogales, in Old Mexico.
    Myy colleague, Jim Turner, says “In his recent article, Garate notes at least a dozen other places in the New World with the name Arizona.
    Never has there been this much disagreement about the name of a state, I am sure. Another irony is that the location never was, and is not now, included in the area we now call Arizona!”
    Don also has a book in which he explains the origin of the word Arizona. Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the New World. By Donald T. Garate. (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2003.
    Journal of Arizona History, Summer 2005, entitled “Arizonac, Twentieth Century Myth.”
    More and more historians are beginning to accept this as the real origin of the name.

    “The only thing we know for certain is nothing is for certain” Patrick Murphy, Irish philosopher

    • joslynn alvarez says

      youre an idiot we have all races here. i dont know where your talking about ..not arizona ,no body is treated wrong because of their nationality. im mexican and white so no wrong ,half the people here are not even american their mexican.

  2. aaron says

    Open your eyes fool. Arizona is now racist because we decided for local law enforcement to enforce fed laws? Do you see any kkk rallies in az? Its the most diverse state in the west homeboy


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