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I'm working on a project that may use one or more Latin phrases that refer directly to a US state or its nickname, but I'm having difficulty interpreting which translation of the word "state" would be best for each of these situations or if they are interchangeable. From what I understand, civitas refers to the social body, the constituency, or the community of citizens while res publica tends to be more about the government and authority, but can refer to the geographic boundaries (which also makes me question whether it should be the translation of land). I guess my question is if res publica were used in the translation of The State of Minnesota, would it then be used in the translations for The Gopher State, The North Star State, and The State of Hockey?

Other names/nicknames that I am looking to translate are as follows. I may consider prepending them with From as in From the State of Minnesota. Any assistance would be appreciated.

  • The State of Minnesota
  • The Gopher State
  • The North Star State
  • The State of Hockey
  • The Land of 10,000 Lakes
  • The State of Texas
  • The Lone Star State
  • The Friendship State
  • The State of Illinois
  • The Prairie State
  • The Corn State
  • The Land of Lincoln
  • The State of California
  • The Golden State
  • The El Dorado State

UPDATE #1

Thanks to input below and from friends, here is my first pass on the translations. A couple of notes:

  • A couple of the non-Latin words I couldn't figure out the appropriate declension or word order for, mainly thomomys and El Dorado, so those probably are wrong.
  • I couldn't find a word for gopher. I'm guessing this is because this is a New World rodent, so I used the genus from the scientific name for the northern pocket gopher, Thomomys talpoides, though that has more Greek roots.
  • For land, I ended up choosing between terra and tellus. It seemed to me that terra is more about geography while tellus is more about a community and selected them for The Land of 10,000 Lakes and The Land of Lincoln respectively.
  • As far as 10,000, I wasn't sure if that should be written out as the words decem millium or the Roman Numeral X-bar. Vicipaedia had it as words, so that's how I have it below.
  • For corn, it's unclear whether that's referring specifically to the crop or farming of cereal crops in general, so I put a couple of different words below.

The State of Minnesota
civitas Minnesotae
ex civitate Minnesotae

The Gopher State
civitas thomomys
ex civitate thomomys

The North Star State
civitas stellae septentrionalis
ex civitate stellae septentrionalis

The State of Hockey
civitas pilamallei super glaciem
ex civitate pilamallei super glaciem

The Land of 10,000 Lakes
terra decem millium lacuum
ex terra decem millium lacuum

The State of Texas
civitas Texiae
ex civitate Texiae

The Lone Star State
civitas solae stellae
ex civitate solae stellae

The Friendship State
civitas amicitiae
ex civitate amicitiae

The State of Illinois
civitas Illinoesiae
ex civitate Illinoesiae

The Prairie State
civitas prati
ex civitate prati

The Corn State
civitas frumenti/frugis/grani
ex civitate frumenti/frugis/grani

The Land of Lincoln
tellus Lincolnii
ex tellure Lincolnii

The State of California
civitas Californiae
ex civitate Californiae

The Golden State
civitas aurea
ex civitate aurea

The El Dorado State
civitas El Dorado
ex civitate El Dorado

  • There are a lot of individual complexities with the names in your bullet list (e.g. I'd love to see how Latin would render el dorado): are you asking about those items, or just a good translation of "state" and "land" as used in these phrases? – brianpck Mar 29 '17 at 13:57
  • Mainly just referring to state. I'm guessing El Dorado would remain in Spanish since it is proper name that was never translated into English. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 15:43
  • Though I suppose since another one of Minnesota's mottos is L'Etoile du Nord, which translates word-for-word from French as The Star of the North, the word state could be dropped from some of them. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 15:45
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    Though I just realized that Wikipedia does have a Latin version. Apparently the Latin name for the US is Civitates Foederatae Americae, which makes me start leaning towards civitas for a lot of these bullet points. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 16:10
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    Though using the El Paso example, I did a quick Google search for eldoradensis and it returned Disholcaspis eldoradensis, the scientific name for the honey dew gall wasp, so I'm guessing civitas eldoradensis might work. – Ian Bui Mar 30 '17 at 18:18
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According to latinists way better than me, an option to translate state as in United States is civitas, -atis.

The U.S. is called Civitates Foederatae Americae in a number of (obviously modern) Latin texts, with possible word order variations. For example:

It has also been called Americanae Civitates Foederatae (still using Civitas) in the XIX century.

Another alternative is the one used by Pope Saint Pius X in 1908, status, -us: (status foederati americae) in his apostolic letter Quae Rei, written in 1908.


In general, two good sources for Latin toponyms that have been actually used are:

  1. Catholic dioceses. Since Latin has been (and still is) the official language of the Catholic Church, they are given Latin names. Most of them have been continually in use from the beginning, meaning it is the closest you can get to Classical (if the place name existed by that time, or whenever it started to be used). Catholic Hierarchy is a privately-maintained site that lists all dioceses and has links to a lot of info about them, including their Latin names. (At times, diocese names match state names, like e.g. New York.)

  2. Vicipaedia (indirectly and with caution). Although not very reliable in general, many articles follow a standard that proper nouns should cite actual, attested, good-quality Latin sources. Following these sources you can get to actual latinists using the names. (I did that to help me write this answer.)

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  • "Status" seems incorrect to me. Compare 14 results for "statibus" and 64 results for "civitatibus" – brianpck Mar 29 '17 at 16:51
  • @brianpck it sounds weird to me too, and I confess I'm hesitant to keep it, but I thought: 1) low frequency does not imply error, 2) there were priests-to-be (and their teachers) in Rome following their full studies in Latin as late as the 1950's, 3) S. Pius X was concerned about the unity in the use of Latin in the Church. It is difficult to me to think the letter was written carelessly. – Rafael Mar 29 '17 at 17:12
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    Yeah, Brian and I were discussing the issues with Latin Wikipedia in other comments. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 17:29
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    That is an interesting point about the Catholic Church. The only reason that I know that ice hockey translates as pilamalleus super glaciem is because of Vatican publications about the Olympics and that obviously is a modern Latin term with no real classical equivalent. As a Catholic myself, I have been trying to track down somebody I could talk to who does know Latin well, but all of the seminarians, priests, and nuns who I would have talked to have passed away. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 17:34
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    The whole concept of (National) State is a Modern phenomenon, so seeking for a Classical rendering of it is a bit of a fool's errand. One might as well ask what Quintillian would have called "Instant Runoff Voting": He wouldn't, the concept was foreign to him. Any instances of an equivalent have to be sought in the Modern Era's Neolatin publications, or more recent ones like documents from the Holy See. – Wtrmute Mar 29 '17 at 20:42
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The Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is inscribed with the words Sigillum Reipublicae Massachusettensis. I wonder whether the other states are also worthy of the title “Res publica”.

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    According to this list, Connecticut also uses reipublicae. All the other seals are in English. – brianpck Mar 29 '17 at 13:45
  • One point to consider, though, is that respublica also refers to the whole country. Without context, it is definitely ambiguous. – brianpck Mar 29 '17 at 13:59
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    That and since both Massachusetts and Connecticut were among the original 13 states, the context becomes even more ambiguous when we consider that the original idea of American Independence was to create 13 separate countries, so would reipublicae be referring more to a nation-state in that context? – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 15:10
  • @IanBui yes. Some states keep words like Republic or Commonwealth in official use for historic reasons while they still define themselves as states. – Rafael Mar 29 '17 at 17:37
  • Note, as well, that "Commonwealth" is an English glossing of Latin Res publica, so any states that call themselves "Commonwealths" should probably be styled "Rei publicae" – Wtrmute Apr 10 '17 at 18:21
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The best word for an American 'State' is probably regio, which was used by Caesar, Cicero and others to mean a district, territory, region or any kind of delineated area of unified influence. As in Caesar's day the Provincia was divided into regions which were inhabited by and named after Gallic tribes, so might the American Respublica also be constituted. The Dakotas are obvious examples which could fall easily into such a system, while 'DC' might be Regio Columbana.

There are a few other words for which a case might be made in special circumstances, but which I can't really see as 'state' in the way you intend: terra, tellus, solum, and possibly rus, ager. Like patria, these are best used in the sense of 'native soil', and so on — as I would understand it, indicating a personal attachment rather than a constitutional entity. As far as I can see, that leaves regio (which I have already put forward), pagus, provincia and civitas, for each of which a respectable case can be made.

The use of civitas in your required sense is certainly legitimate, but is basically an adoption of a word that began by meaning 'citizenship', was later extended to 'the body of citizens' and was famously used by St Augustine in his Civitas Dei, variously translated as 'City of God', 'Estate of God' etc. leading to the usage in modern Latin for 'state'.

Pagus I would say was too localised a term (though Caesar uses it pretty much as a synonym for regio), the home of some particular group and not appropriate for a (federal) American state.

Provincia was the origin of the name Provence, but came to be used for any part of the Empire subject to an appointed governor (proconsul, procurator etc.). It may carry too many overtones of earlier colonial status to be acceptable in the USA.

Which leaves us, again, with regio.

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  • Hmm, I never considered regio. Though looking up the etymology of that word, wouldn't that refer more to counties, townships, and smaller cities? – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 15:21
  • @Ian Bui You can take your pick from ten or so plausible words. It's a matter of style as much as anything. If would help you, I could expand my answer to include the likeliest. – Tom Cotton Mar 29 '17 at 16:54
  • Sure, that would be helpful. Though I guess it might be more helpful to break down the style/context of each word so I would understand why I might pick one word versus another. – Ian Bui Mar 29 '17 at 17:14
  • Done. I hope it helps! – Tom Cotton Mar 29 '17 at 19:07

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