How Did Florida Get Its Name? Discover the Origin and Meaning

Written by Sandy Porter
Published: September 12, 2023
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The Sunshine State, land of Disney, or Olympian Equestrian wintering zone all apply as names for Florida. But where did the actual name come from? What does Florida mean? If you’re curious about how Florida got its name, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll be exploring the history of the state, its naming, its nicknames, and much more.

How Did Florida Get Its Name?

Close-up view of the Florida state flag

The Florida state flag waving in the wind demonstrates much of the state’s history. The bright flowers, ship, crossbars, and other symbols show off the state’s legacy.

©iStock.com/rarrarorro

In springtime 1513, long before it was a state, Florida earned its name. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, or simply Ponce de Leon, entered the place we now call Florida. In search of gold and precious treasured rumored in the Americas, Ponce de Leon discovered something else in the Sunshine State. And what he discovered caused him to name the place.

After landing near the now St. Augustine town area on the Atlantic Coast, Ponce de Leon and his fellows noticed the many flowers within the subtropical terrain. They had hoped to locate the fabled fountain of youth (you can see the historic attraction mistaken for it in St. Augustine!) but instead came across a plethora of blooms, wild animals, and birds.

Theories float around about the naming of the place, but historians do know that whether La Florida or La Pascua Florida was intended, the state got its name of Florida for the flowers (flora) within.

A Brief History of Florida

Portrait of Juan Ponce De Leon

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon gave Florida its name for the many flowers witnessed within the state.

©Photos.com/ via Getty Images

More than 12,000 years ago, the first humans came to Florida. Here, they lived off the land, enjoying the rich bounty of plants and wildlife. First Nations of America living here originally included Timucua, Apalachee, Creek, and Calusa. The Seminole people migrated to Florida in the 1700s as they sought refuge from the various conflicts with settlers elsewhere.

After the Spanish invaded and settled Florida in the 1500s, with Ponce de Leon leading the way, the fertile land and stunning coastline drew shippers and settlers from Great Britain, France, and Spain. By 1763, the British took control of the state, exchanging land in Havana, Cuba, for the state. During the American Revolutionary War, however, Spain once again staked claim to the land known as Florida.

By 1821, though, settlers had flooded the area and Spain wound up giving up Florida to the newly formed United States in exchange for Spanish rule over Texas. Twenty-three years later, Florida was admitted into the union officially as the twenty-seventh state.

Basic Facts on Florida

  • Statehood established: 1845 as the twenty-seventh state
  • Official nickname: The Sunshine State
  • Capital city: Tallahassee
  • Largest city by area: Jacksonville
  • Largest city by population: Jacksonville
  • State bird: Mockingbird
  • State Flower: Orange blossom
  • State motto: “In God We Trust”
  • Population: 22.25 million (as of 2023)

Previous Names for the Sunshine State

Originally, Florida was known as La Florida, or “the place of flowers.” Theories preside over the reason but have been narrowed to two. One could be Ponce de Leon’s naming of the state in honor the many flowers he saw. The other major theory is that Pascua Florida, or the “Feast of Flowers” influenced the state’s naming.

Nicknames for Florida

Naples, Florida, USA Skylinee

The beautiful state of Florida earns its many nicknames via natural and human-devised features. Most, though, come from the flora, fauna, and weather of the Sunshine State.

©Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

Florida bears multiple nicknames, thanks to the many things the unique state is known for.

  • The Sunshine State — Perhaps the most well-known nickname, Florida earns “Sunshine State” for its whopping 230 days of sunshine each year. The state officially adopted this nickname in 1970.
  • The Everglade State — Since Florida houses the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and only subtropical preserve in North America in the Everglades, Florida has earned this nickname.
  • The Alligator State — With over 1 million alligators in Florida, the nickname seems suiting! Florida ties with Louisiana for the number of alligators.
  • The Orange State — Because Florida produces more oranges than any other state in the union, the title is well-deserved.
  • The Flower State — As the actual name of Florida implies, many varieties of incredible flowers exist in the Flower State.
  • The Peninsula State — Since Florida is the only state in America to form a peninsula for the majority of its landmass, the nickname fits.
  • The Gulf State — This nickname is shared with Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, the other states bordered by the Gulf of Mexico.

What Does “Florida” Mean?

Yellow Hibiscus.

Wild hibiscus and other native flowers lent the name of “Florida” to this vibrant state.

©Nuttapong Wongcheronkit/Shutterstock.com

La Florida, the state’s original name, means “flowery” or “floral” in Spanish. The name was given to the state by Ponce de Leon for the abundance of flora in the wilds of the subtropical climate. The name comes from the Spanish word florido, literally meaning “full of flowers” or “flowery.”

Geography and Land Forms of Florida

Florida map

Florida covers many terrains, though mostly coastal, marshlands, pine and oak forests, and swamps.

©Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com

Surrounded on three sides by water, Florida is a peninsula, with landmass connecting on the northern border of the state to Georgia in the east and Alabama in the west. To the east of the state, the Atlantic Ocean laps against the beaches. On the western side of the state, the Gulf of Mexico laps the shores with clear water on white sand.

The northern part of the state, such as in Tallahassee (the capital) and Gadsden County, you’ll find the “hills of Florida” rolling through. Here you’ll also find plenty of sinkholes and caves, even a few waterfalls. Much of the northern portion of the state is filled with subtropical and pine forests, with live oaks and the occasional maple tree sprinkled in. Coastal plains with sandy beaches and many islands, swamps, marshlands, and bayous make up most of the state’s remaining terrain.

Wildlife in Florida

West Indian Manatee in Crystal River

Manatees were mistaken by explorers in Florida as mermaids. Or at least, that’s how the legends go.

©Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

While many folks think of Florida as home to a big cartoon mouse named Mickey, the real wildlife here is diverse and intriguing. You could run into

Fun Facts About Florida

Orange fruit

Florida Oranges are just one of the many exports that Florida produces. Florida is also the tomato capital of the world.

©PradaBrown/Shutterstock.com

  • Florida has over 660 miles of beaches.
  • Florida’s capital city is Tallahassee, located in “North Florida” the region where the state is most “southern” in culture. The Georgia state line is less than a 30-minute drive away, though!
  • Many famous folks have lived in Florida, including Ernest Heminway, Zora Neale Hurston, Ariana Grande, and Janet Reno.
  • Florida’s Key West contains the southernmost point of the contiguous United States. You can visit a decorative pillar there where you may take photos.
  • The oldest inhabited city within the United States rests along the eastern coast of Florida: St. Augustine. The city was settled by Spaniards in 1565.
  • Florida has the longest coastline in the continental United States, with 825 miles of coast.
  • Only Florida borders both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Florida contains more than 7,700 lakes!
  • The only place in the world where both crocodiles and alligators co-exist in the same ecosystem is in the Florida Everglades.
  • Florida should be called the Citrus capital. In fact, it produces more than 70% of the country’s oranges.
  • On January 1, 1914, the world’s first scheduled commercial passenger flight occurred in Florida. The flight took off from St. Petersburg and landed in Tampa.
  • Wherever you may land in Florida, you are literally never more than 60 miles from the nearest body of water.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Susan Rydberg/ via Getty Images


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About the Author

Sandy Porter is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering house garden plants, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Sandy has been writing professionally since 2017, has a Bachelor’s degree and is currently seeking her Masters. She has had lifelong experience with home gardens, cats, dogs, horses, lizards, frogs, and turtles and has written about these plants and animals professionally since 2017. She spent many years volunteering with horses and looks forward to extending that volunteer work into equine therapy in the near future. Sandy lives in Chicago, where she enjoys spotting wildlife such as foxes, rabbits, owls, hawks, and skunks on her patio and micro-garden.

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