How Idaho Got Many Of Its Place Names

May 24, 2017

If you're new to Idaho, you may wonder how some Gem State places got their names.  Thankfully, historian and Idaho Statesman columnist Arthur Hart has you covered.

In a recent column, Hart went over the origins of a number of county names:

"From French we have Nez Perce (pierced nose), Teton (woman’s breast) and Boise (wooded), because most of the early fur trappers in Idaho were from French-speaking eastern Canada. From Spanish we once had a giant county called Alturas (mountain heights), which was broken up into parts of several new counties." -- Arthur Hart in the Statesman

Of course, one look at the Idaho Press Club's pronunciation guide will teach any newcomers to ignore the original French or Spanish pronunciations for most Idaho places. (Dubois = DOO-boyss, Jacques = JACKS, etc.) 

Hart points out although Nez Perce, Shoshone, Blackfoot and other counties were named for Idaho Indian tribes — Oneida County was actually named after "a tribe centered in New York that was part of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy."

Mormon county names are also of note, as Hart describes: "The name Lemhi is derived from King Limhi in the Book of Mormon. Franklin County, created in 1913, is named for Mormon apostle Franklin D. Richards — the only one of 24 Franklin counties in the United States not named for Benjamin Franklin."

And — like many other states, American presidents are a common place name (remember learning your presidents in order during grade school? Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, etc.). There's even one failed presidential hopeful in the mix: James G. Blaine ran for president and lost to Grover Cleveland.

But of course, the name "Idaho" itself famously has a murky history and origin story.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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