How Did Arizona Get Its Name?

did-arizona-its-name Credit: TAKEN BY LOIC HOAREAU/Moment/Getty Images

Historians disagree on the origin of the state name "Arizona," but the traditional consensus is that the name is derived from the O'odham term, "Ali-Shonak" or "Aleh-zon," the native name of an area in Arizona, which sounds like the word for "small spring." Another theory is that the name is derived from a Basque word that means "the good oak tree."

The area comprised of southern Arizona and northern Mexico, which was originally known by the Spanish as Pimeria Alta after the native inhabitants who the Spanish called Pima, had a small area that was called Arissona, Arisona or Arizona by the Spanish settlers. Historian Donald T. Garate notes that the place name Arizona was used by Basque settlers in an area below what later became the Mexican border, and places called Arizona have been referenced in Basque settlements well beyond the geographical reach of the O'odham natives, adding credibility to the Basque theory.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Arizona was home to numerous native tribes, such as the Mogollan and the Hohokam. Spanish explorers scouted the area in the mid-1500s, and Spain founded fortified towns at Tubac and Tuscon in the 1700s. Arizona became part of the territory known as Alta California in 1821 when Mexico achieved independence from Spain.