Colorado's name has been around longer than Colorado has been a state.

Of course, we all learned in our Colorado History class that Colorado officially became a state in 1876. But, Colorado got its name way before that.

Spanish Origins

The word Colorado has its origin in the Spanish language. Colorado is the word for "colored red." Congress chose the name for Colorado when it became a territory in 1861, and the name stuck when it became a state in 1876.

Is the State Named After the Colorado River?

Reference.com says Colorado is named after the Colorado River, which was named because of the reddish hue of the silt it carries from the mountains. However, there is a contrary opinion about that.

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Red Rock Canyon Open Space disputes the notion that our state was named after the Colorado River saying that when the Colorado Territory was established, the Colorado River as we know it today, was still called the Grand River. According to the Colorado State University Library archives, the Grand River did not become the Colorado River until a resolution was passed in 1921, 45 years after Colorado became a state.

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Another Perspective

The website references a book by Dorothy Aldridge "Historic Colorado City" which says the state got its name from Colorado City, which later became known as Colorado Springs. The book quotes one of the founders of Colorado City as saying the name comes from its proximity to red rocks. Other names were suggested such as Pikes Peak, Jefferson, and Montana, but representatives from Colorado City that were sent to Washington to lobby for the name apparently thought having the territory named Colorado would help promote their city.

Something We Can Agree On

Multiple sources agree that Spanish explorers were the first to use the term Colorado to describe the territory, and the name stuck. It makes a lot of sense. Think about it the next time you're traveling I-70 and you notice the red sandstone and clay that climbs above the highway around Glenwood Springs, or as you gaze at the red rocks near Morrison as you approach Denver from the west.

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