Greater City Providence

What’s in a Name?

Biggest Little State in the Union

There’s a lot of talk going on right now about changing the name of Rhode Island, specifically removing Plantations from our official name, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. I’m not here to argue if that is right or not (I think the time has come to make the change), but to ask us to think a little bit about what the state’s official name should be.

Here’s the thing, we’re the smallest state and we have the longest name, that’s a cool little quirk. So, how can we maintain that quirk?

The current official state name, which according to RI.gov is, “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” is 42 letters. Although all the talk is about dropping “Plantations” from our name, the bill introduced is to drop “and Providence Plantations,” which results in “State of Rhode Island,” 18 letters.

What is next? Don’t forget there are four states that call themselves commonwealths, and the “Commonwealth of Massachusetts” is the next longest state name, at 27 letters (the “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” is 3rd with 26 letters).

[Note: I did not do exhaustive research on all the official state names, some state may have a quirky name like ours, I’m assuming they are all either State of ‘Common Name’ or Commonwealth of ‘Common Name.’ I did check to see if RI, MA, or PA included “the” at the beginning of their official names, as far as I can tell, none of them do.]

You guys! We CANNOT! allow Massachusetts to claim our title of longest state name! So, I say, instead of just dropping the “and Providence Plantations,” we think about what we can do to make a new name that is at least 28 letters long, to beat those Massholes, and maintain our claim to longest state name.

Some ideas:

Just drop the Plantations

We could do what everyone is saying and just drop the ‘Plantations’ and call ourselves the “State of Rhode Island and Providence.31 letters. However, I think the rest of the state would have a sad on that one.

Name it after everyone then

If the rest of the state is going to feel left out by calling it State of Rhode Island and Providence, then let’s include everyone in the name. “State of Rhode Island and Providence and Kent and Washington and Newport and Bristol.” 71 letters. I mean, it should help us maintain our claim on longest name for a while, right? Feels a little clunky tough.

But it didn’t mean that then

Part of the reason that the last ballot measure to change the name failed, is that people claimed plantations didn’t have the meaning or connotations when the state was named that it does now. That was my feeling when I voted against the change last time (and I was also enamored with us having the longest name).

So, change the name to what the word was supposed to mean, “‘Colony.” “State of Rhode Island and Providence Colonies.39 letters. Meh, I’m not loving it, but there is a letter for every city and town.

ALL the islands

Why just Rhode Island, let’s include ’em all. “State of Rhode, Block, Conanicut, Despair, Dutch, Fox, Goat, Greene, Hog, Hope, Patience, Prudence, Rabbit, Rock, and Rose Islands.” 98 letters. I actually found a source that claims there are 108 islands in Rhode Island, including in freshwater bodies, so this version of our name could actually be quite a bit longer.

The tourism slogan

Biggest Little State of Rhode Island31 letters. I feel like I should just stop here, right? This is obviously the only option. We’re not going to discuss the “Cooler and Warmer State of Rhode Island.” 33 letters.

Most Serene

According to Wikipedia: “Most Serene Republic is a title attached to a number of European states through history. By custom, the appellation “Most Serene” is an indicator of sovereignty (see also Serene Highness or Most Serene Highness for a sovereign prince); consequently “Most Serene Republic” emphasizes the sovereignty of the republic.”

San Marino is the only modern republic that uses the Most Serene appellation, and that is unofficial.

Most Serene State of Rhode Island.” 28 letters. Beats Massachusetts by 1.

What Cheer?

State of What Cheer? Netop.” 22 letters, not enough.

Why Rhode?

There is actually some debate over exactly where the name Rhode Island came from.

According to Wikipedia again:

  • Explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano noted the presence of an island near the mouth of Narragansett Bay in 1524 which he likened to the island of Rhodes off the coast of Greece.[19] Subsequent European explorers were unable to precisely identify the island that Verrazzano described, but the colonists who settled the area assumed that it was this island.
  • Adriaen Block passed by the island during his expeditions in the 1610s, and he described it in a 1625 account of his travels as “an island of reddish appearance,” which was “een rodlich Eylande” in 17th-century Dutch (a “red island” in Dutch would be “een rood eiland”, pronounced quite similar to “Rhode Island”). One popular notion is that this Dutch phrase might have influenced the name Rhode Island. (Historians have theorized that this “reddish appearance” resulted from either red autumn foliage or red clay on portions of the shore.)

So, no one is really sure why we’re called Rhode Island or if the islands that these guys were talking about were even in the modern state. They could have been sailing by Martha’s Vineyard for all we know (“State of West Martha’s Vineyard?” 27 letters, tie. Nah.).

Also, these were a couple of European dudes naming an island which may or may not have been the one in Narragansett Bay. There were people living here then that already had names for the places that Europeans would eventually borrow, buy, and steal.

State of Aquidneck Island.” 22 letters. Doesn’t maintain our longest name title, but this is actually the renaming I like the most. We could maintain the longest name by appending the original names of all the lands that make up the rest of the state, East Bay, South County, Blackstone Valley, etc.

Since our counties exist as lines on the map only, it would be interesting to figure out what those native names were, and reapportion them into new counties.

If we really want to make our name correct, changing the ‘Rhode’ is something we should also be thinking about.

Honorable Mention

State of Benny’s” Only 13 letters, but come on!

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.

8 comments

  • Four comments:
    First, RI is the smallest state in square miles (which means nothing & hardly a class m to fame) but NOT in population (far from it)
    Second, the whole name change thing is a fraud of “pain” of folks today for something over 150 years ago!. It’s a name given at a point in history…nothing more.
    Third, too bad what the rat of the state is hunks, they are all part of the larger Providence Metro (along with SE MA)
    Fourth, I like “State of Rhode Island & Providence Colonies”

  • Thank you, I’m glad someone is thinking about the important things. It would be a travesty if we were to do this and end up with “Rhode Island” alone as the name. It’s already the second worst part of the current name, and the worst of the original colonies.

    I’ve been pushing for “The State of Rhode Island, Providence, the Shawomet Purchase, and Narragansett Country” as the replacement, but if it has to be “The State of Rhode Island and Providence” so be it. For a state that prides itself on it’s artistic community, you would expect a little more willingness to express some creativity with things like this. I’d go for dropping the words “Rhode Island” entirely, but I don’t think keeping a long name is asking too much.

  • Best thing I’ve read all week which, all things considered, is not really a compliment; but really think we need to get this right. I mean so much is riding on it!

  • I’d be down with just dropping plantations and leaving Providence. It would be like the province of Newfoundland And Labrador- two names for one state. Switching out plantations for colonies sounds better, but I doubt it would be helpful. Seeing the research you made on the number of island in the state, why not name it “State of Providence and Over One Hundred Islands”?

  • Oh, yeah. Good joke!

    The truth is that all of southern MA, part of the Providence Metro, should be surrendered to RI. But then again, yuck.

  • How about The State of Rhode Island and the Providence Settlements? Same idea as “Colonies”, but a little more appropriate since we haven’t been a colony since May 4, 1776.

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