The origin of the name of the Bluegrass state has never been established with certainty. The most likely explanation is that Kentucky is from the Iroquois kenta, meaning level or prairie.1 The name of the state was in use by 1776 when Virginia organized Kentucky County, which would become the state in 1792.
Various other origins remain possibilities, including the suggestion that it comes from the Wyandot (an Iroquoian dialect) meaning land of tomorrow, or from an Algonquian root meaning river bottom or head of a river.2
1Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, edited by Philip Babcock Gove (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1993), 1237;
2Illustrated Dictionary of Place Names, edited by Kelsie B. Harder (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976), 272.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton