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State Research Guide: Arkansas
2/1/2006
Get back to your Natural State roots with a healthy dose of history.

When it comes to Arkansas, practically everyone has the same question: How did it end up with such a strange name? Why isn't it pronounced “Ar-KAN-zes”? Or conversely, why isn't its neighbor to the northwest called “kan-SAW”?

Back in the 1600s, when the French were exploring what would become Arkansas, they encountered the Quapaw Indians. Other tribes knew the Quapaw by a term meaning “south wind,” which to the French sounded something like the modern-day pronunciation of Arkansas. For the next 200 or so years, the state's name was pronounced and spelled different ways. In fact, during the early days of statehood, even Arkansas' two US senators disagreed about the pronunciation: One preferred “AR-kan-SAW and the other “Ar-KAN-zes.” Finally, in 1881, Arkansas' General Assembly standardized die moniker declaring it should be spelled Arkansas but pronounced “AR-kan-SAW,” an Anglicized version of the original French pronunciation. Meanwhile, Kansas chose to adopt an English pronunciation based on the spelling of its name, which has similar roots.

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