What if Colorado had a different name?

Our state’s name, “Colorado,” immediately conjures visions of mountain peaks and vibrant wildflowers. But our current state name wasn’t always a guarantee – several names were considered before Colorado was officially named.

A large wooden sign with white letters reading "Welcome to Colorful Colorado."

The United States Congress passed a bill to create the Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861. The new territory was carved out of the pre-existing Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Utah territories after influx of white immigrants to the area during the Gold Rush.

The “Colorado History” section of a 1918 public school curriculum published by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction tells the story of how Colorado got its name due to a last minute correction to the Senate bill:

…upon February 1, 1861, the Senate called up the bill organizing the “Territory of Idaho,” which was the name decided upon. After several minor amendments, one at the request of Delegate Williams, striking out the word “Idaho” and substituting the Spanish word “Colorado,” the name suggested by Governor Gilpin, the bill passed the Senate.

The Spanish word “Colorado” means “colorful” or “colored red.” Presumably, Colorado earned this name from Spanish colonizers in the area who were struck by the red rocks of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountain ranges.

Idaho wasn’t the only potential name that could have graced the new territory. According to the 1918 curriculum, other names proposed were:

  • Arapahoe
  • Idaho
  • Lula
  • Montana
  • Nemara
  • San Juan
  • Tampa
  • Wapola
  • Tanosa
  • Lafayette
  • Colona
  • Columbus
  • Franklin

Despite all these suggestions, Colorado won out and by the time the first Colorado legislative assembly met in September, 1861 and published their House Journal, the name was engrained as part of our state history.

If you’re interested in Colorado place names, check out our previous blog posts about Colorado’s county names and a Colorado pronunciation guide!