Can You Pass This Basic North American Geography Spelling Quiz?

By: Zoe Samuel

Which is the correct spelling for the biggest river in the U.S.?

The Mississippi is a French-ified version of the original Anishinaabe name for the river. It was called "Misi-ziibi," which fittingly means "great river."

Which is the correct spelling for the river on which the capital of the U.S. sits?

The Potomac gets its name from a Piscataway language, which is an Algonquin language. It's pronounced Pot-OH-mack, which most visitors from abroad tend to get wrong.

Which is the correct spelling for the highest mountain in the U.S.?

Koyukon natives called this mountain "great one" or Denali in their language. It was called Mount McKinley for a while, but has now taken back its old name!

Which is the correct spelling for the biggest bay on Canada's northern coast?

Fun act about Hudson Bay: it's actually at the same latitude as the United Kingdom. New England Americans and Brits marveling at how their nations have such similar weather in spite of this can thank the Gulf Stream.

Which is the correct spelling for the largest of the Mountain states?

This state sounds like it has a Native name but really it comes from Spanish. The colonizers referred to the area as "Montaña del Norte."

Which is the correct spelling for the biggest lake in Florida, which has a Native name?

The name comes from "oki" and "chobi" which together literally mean "big water." It is named by the Hitchiti tribe, who first found it.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of California?

The town is named for the river that borders its limits. That river was named for the Eucharist, Santisimo Sacramento, by a Spanish officer named Gabriel Moraga.

Which is the correct spelling for one of the Great Lakes?

Huron was a French name given to an Iroquois tribe. It literally means "boar's head." due to the Hurons' bristly hairstyles.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of Florida?

This name comes from the Apalachee. They named the formerly inhabited area "abandoned fields," for they all left the area.

Which is the correct spelling for the mountain range that dominates upstate New York?

This name literally means "tree eater". It's an insulting term that the Mohawk tribe put on the Algonquin tribes who they saw as inferior. That is, we've somehow gone and named a mountain range after a local slur!

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of New Hampshire?

Concord has an English name with a very literal meaning. The European arrivals wanted to inspire people there to get on.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of North Dakota?

This town has a German name, for Otto von Bismarck, founder of modern Germany. It's in Dakota, which is a Sioux state whose name means "friend."

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of Wyoming?

Pronounced "shy-ANN," Cheyenne means "people of different speech." It's a Lakota name for the local Cheyenne natives.

Which is the correct spelling for the biggest mountain in Washington State?

George Vancouver named Rainier for a friend of his. Its former Native name was Talol. Some are campaigning to restore this original name.

Which is the correct spelling for a big lake in Minnesota with an Ojibwe name?

Lake Winnibigoshish has an Ojibwe name, since they lived there before the arrival of Europeans. The name literally means "dirty water," as the lake's water is brackish and not always good to drink.

Which is the correct spelling for the highest mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?

These mountains are in Colorado. The tallest of them are called the Fourteeners, as they are over 14,000 feet. Culebra is the only one that is privately owned, costing $150 to climb!

Which is the correct spelling for the major river that flows from Canada to Alaska?

Yukon is a Canadian territory and is very remote and vast. It has a very small population, being one of the most sparsely-inhabited areas of North America.

Which is the correct spelling for the tributary of the Columbia that flows through WA, ID and Canada?

Pend Orielle means "ear pendant" in French. The name was given to the river because the natives had elaborate ear decorations.

Which is the correct spelling for the river that was channelized in Florida and later restored?

A large piece of the Kissimmee River was routed into a straight canal to prevent flooding. However, it was an environmental disaster, and as a result, the process is slowly being reversed.

Which is the correct spelling for the state just south of Kentucky?

The state's name is possibly of Cherokee origin and may refer to the place of the great bend in the river. However, ethnographers generally agree that Tennessee's precise etylomology is lost.

Which is the correct spelling for the river that flows from northern British Columbia into Alaska and ends at the Bay of Alaska?

This wilderness river is noted for its rapids. Adventurous kayakers take on the river, though the real challenge is arguably just getting there!

Which is the correct spelling for the river flowing through Montana and British Columbia?

This name is a transliteration of an Algonquian name meaning "water people." The river is one of the biggest in the region, rivaling even the Columbia.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of Canada?

Ottawa comes from an Algonquin word that means "to trade." It is a trading post that is now a major city.

Which is the correct spelling for the largest Canadian territory by land area?

This Inuktitut name means "our land." Nunavut is a vast northern Canadian territory that is quite sparsely populated.

Which is the correct spelling for the the largest Canadian province by population?

Ontario is an Iroquois word that means "beautiful lake." It's one of the major Canadian provinces.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of New Brunswick?

Ths city is named for Prince Frederick, Duke of York. However, it used to be called Saint Anne's Point, before it was renamed in 1785.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of Alaska?

Juneau is not the biggest city in Alaska, but it is the capital. The largest city in the state is Anchorage, which is considerably further north.

Which is the correct spelling for the capital of Arkansas?

Little Rock is an Anglicized name for a Native settlement that is now the capital of Arkansas. It is named for a rock in the nearby river that was used to navigate.

Which is the correct spelling for the 550,000-acre national forest outside Anchorage?

Chugach is a national park that is named for its native inhabitants. Europeans arrived in the 1700's and later on, gold was found in the area.

Which is the correct spelling for the national forest that spans parts of California and Nevada?

The name of this forest comes from Baron Alexander von Humboldt, in whose honor it was named. Its second name is a Shoshane word that means "mountain."

Which is the correct spelling for the deepest slot canyon in the U.S.?

You need a permit to hike in this beautiful narrow canyon. Only a few lucky people can stay overnight! It's on the Utah-Arizona border.

Which is the correct spelling for the Finger Lakes town full of suffragette history?

Seneca Falls was the site of a noted suffragette convention. The work done there resulted in women achieving the vote some years later.

Which is the correct spelling for the beautiful beach with a native name?

The name comes from Ventureño, an extinct language. It poetically describes the loud surf that is the hallmark of Malibu beach.

Which is the correct spelling for the river in Connecticut with an Algonquian name?

This name literally means "long water land." The state itself is named for the Connecticut River, which bisects it, and means something akin to "long tidal water,"

Which is the correct spelling for the desert with a native name?

The name means literally "along or beside the water." That is, the Mojave call themselves the people who live beside the river.

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About This Quiz

North America encompasses all of the United States' lower 48 states and Alaska, as well as Canada and - depending on whether you ask someone with a geographical or political background - Mexico and other Central American nations (though for the purposes of this quiz, we're going to stay north of the Rio Grande). It is bounded by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. It's not one of the biggest continents, as continents go, but that doesn't mean it's easy to remember all of its details. After all, we're talking about a land area that is 94.5 million miles squared, large enough to contain over half a billion people!

Part of what makes North American names reasonably hard to remember is the rich cultural history of the continent. North America has been populated for a really long time by multiple groups with different languages, and while invasion and displacement have resulted in many place names changing, there is still a huge mix of sources for names. For example, some U.S. states, towns and rivers, are named for (or by) the Native American tribe who first lived there. Other places are named for Spanish or French or British conquerors. Others are Anglicized versions of native names, and transliteration is a notoriously imprecise science when it comes to agreeing on the correct spelling.

Can you keep track of all of it? Let's find out!

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