The etymology of the word or name, Alabama, has evoked much discussion among philological researchers. It was the name of a noted southern Indian tribe whose habitat when first known to Europeans was in what is now central Alabama. One of the major waterways in the state was named for this group and from this river, in turn, the name of the state was derived. The tribal name of Alabama was spelled in various ways by the early Spanish, French, and British chroniclers: Alabama, Albama, Alebamon, Alibama, Alibamou, Alibamon, Alabamu, and Allibamou. The appellation first occurs in three of the accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition of 1540: written Alibamo by Garcillasso de la Vega, Alibamu by the Knight of Elvas, and Limamu by Rodrigo Ranjel (in the last form, the initial vowel is dropped and the first m is used for b, the interchange of these two consonants being common in Indian languages). The name as recorded by these chroniclers was the name of a subdivision of the Chickasaws, not the historic Alabamas of later times.
The popular belief that Alabama signifies “Here We Rest” stems from an etymology given wide currency in the 1850s through the writings of Alexander Beauford Meek. However, the first known use of this derivation appeared earlier in an unsigned article in a July 27, 1842, issue of the Jacksonville Republican. Experts in the Muskogee dialect have been unable to find any word or phrase similar to Alabama with the meaning “Here We Rest.”
According to some investigations, the tribal name Alabama must be sought in the Choctaw tongue, as it is not uncommon for tribes to accept a name given them by a neighboring tribe. Inquiry among the early Indians themselves appears to have yielded no information about the meaning of the word. The Rev. Allen Wright, a Choctaw scholar, translated the name as thicket clearers, compounded of Alba meaning “a thick or mass vegetation,” and amo meaning “to clear, to collect, to gather up.” To learn more about Alabama, click here.
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