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Inside Idaho: Where does the name “Idaho” come from?

In our last Inside Idaho, we took a look at why Idaho is nicknamed the Gem State. This week, we take a look at how the word Idaho stems from its nickname.

If you’ve stumbled on this question before, you’ve likely heard that Idaho is a Native American word. However, this is not true. In fact, the word was actually initially made up for a different state, according to the Idaho Historical Society.

[Inside Idaho: Why is Lucky Peak… lucky?]

In 1860 when Colorado needed a name, mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name “Idaho” to Congress, claiming it was a Native American Shoshone word meaning “Gem of the Mountains.”

Days after Congress agreed to call the area now known as Colorado, “Idaho,” they found the word Idaho wasn’t actually Native American.

“People tried to find Nez Perce, Shoshoni, Yakima and Arapaho words that sounded like ‘Idaho,’ but they never really got anywhere,” The Idaho Historical Society article notes. “They were looking for a (Native American) word that never really existed.”

Congress then reversed course, and named the territory Colorado – a Spanish word.

A few years later in 1863, after new mining country had been discovered in the area where our state now sits, Congress decided to go with a word that they’d contemplated before – you guessed it… Idaho.

At that point, most people had forgotten about the mix-up in Colorado and still believed the word “Idaho” had Native American origins. It still didn’t – and the made-up word for our state, stuck.

Next week in our Inside Idaho series: While Idaho is home to the star garnet, there is another purple-colored treasure that people hunt for every summer. We’ll tell you about the beloved berry and where you can find them.

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Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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