Which First: The Mississippi River or Mississippi the State?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: October 7, 2022
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The Mississippi River is one of the defining features of the United States. As the second longest river in America, it’s no wonder that this river is important. Still, many don’t know much about the river, or even why it was named. It happens to share a name with Mississippi, the state, but which one came first? Today, we are going to learn a bit about the Mississippi River, Missippi the state, and which one was named first. Let’s get started!

Which was named first, the Mississippi River or Mississippi the state?

Which First: The Mississippi River or Mississippi the State?

The Mississippi River was named hundreds of years before the territory or state of Mississippi was named.


The Mississippi River was named by Native American tribes hundreds of years ago, significantly predating the naming of the State of Mississippi.

Although there isn’t an exact timeline for the naming of the Mississippi by native tribes, it can be certain that the river known as the Mississippi was named well before the state ever became a part of the United States Union. The modern French interpretation of the name came about during the first trips by missionaries into the region in the 15th and 16th centuries. The state of Mississippi was first recognized as a territory of the United States in 1798 and was officially admitted as a state in 1817.

Where did the name ‘Mississippi’ come from?

Which First: The Mississippi River or Mississippi the State?

The original name for the Mississippi River was the Misi-ziibi, or the Great River.

©Milen Mkv/Shutterstock.com

The word Mississippi has its origins in the Algonquian and Ojibwe languages. The name is a combination of two words, Misi and zipi. Misi means “Great,” while zipi means “river.” Together, the name is Misi-ziibi, directly translated as Great River. Rather fitting!

The name Misi-ziibi may sound the same when we pronounce it today, but the word went through a little change in order to become the Mississippi that we know in modern times. The colonization of the word began when French missionaries began traveling along the river, hoping to convert the native tribes that spanned the large area. Through interacting with the Native Americans, the French missionaries began referring to the big river they were traveling on as the Native Americans were. Soon, a more French take on the word Misi-ziibi began to emerge. Within a few hundred years, the river was simply known as the Mississippi, not a far cry from the original Misi-ziibi.

Why did they name the state after the river?

Which First: The Mississippi River or Mississippi the State?

The Mississippi territory was located along the Mississippi River. It was later split into the states of Alabama and Mississippi.


The cultural and economic importance of the Mississippi River is hard to overstate. For the Native Americans, the river was essential for farming, hunting, and travel, with some of the most complex societies in North America living along its shores. “Mississippian culture” spanned from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and was so prevalent that its impacts are still felt to this day.

When colonists began settling in the area around the Mississippi River, some of this culture was adopted, such as using the river as a means to effectively farm and travel. During the early days of the United States, the area where the state of Mississippi is now was primarily used as farmland and cotton fields tended by slave labor.

In 1798, the United States took land along the Mississippi River from Britain and organized it into a new territory known as the Mississippi Territory. This region was further developed and populated and became fully dependent on the Mississippi River to transport cotton and other goods from the massive plantations around the area. Finally, in 1817, part of the land was admitted as the State of Mississippi, while the other half was admitted as the State of Alabama.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © RaksyBH/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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