Over the past four days, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to go on a road trip with my family through much of the southwest US--we visited four national parks and went through three states (in addition to Colorado, of course). Last night, when we were in Grand Canyon National Park, I found my dad Googling the origin of the name Arizona, which gave me a great idea for a blog post: geographical names. Although there is some controversy over the exact origin, it’s something similar to this: Arizona’s name is derived from the O’odham alĭ ṣonak (meaning “small spring”), which eventually became Arizona. The name Arizona was initially applied to a village in Sonora, although it later became the name of the US state we know today. Arizona is also used as a place name in many locations throughout Central and South America.
So why am I rambling on about geographical names? What does that have to do with spelling? Any seasoned speller can tell you that geographical names present some of the toughest challenges in the bee. Oftentimes, instead of being given a straightforward language of origin, the speller is told where the geographical name is used (e.g. the given origin for “Arizona” would likely be “American geographical name” or something similar). It can make it much more difficult to discern any language patterns or other clues that may assist with the spelling of word. While it’s true that the nature of geographical names makes them difficult to spell, many spellers might think that this means that the learning of geographical names should be undertaken purely as a memorization task, which is not true. While many geographical names can certainly be learned through memorization, they’re really just like any other words. There are three main tools, besides plain memorization, that will be the most helpful to you in mastering the spellings of geographical names.