How the 36 states of Nigeria got their names

Ama Nunoo January 26, 2021
Delta State men dressed in their cultural attire. Photo: Emma4ph/ Wikmedia commons

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and where one can find more Black people than in any other country on the planet, has a uniquely complicated colonial history. Archaeological findings pieced together show that by the 10th century AD, most of the modern country had been populated by the native peoples we know today.

The over 100 major ethnic groups spread from Hausaland in the north to the Igbo peoples of central and southeast of the country to the Yoruba kingdoms in the south and southwest.

The territory we now know as the country has been inhabited for at least, 3,000 years. The Iron Age Nok civilization of northern Nigeria dates back to about 1,500 BC, with evidence of settled life in the environs of Kaduna, one of its 36 states.

All the names in the 36 states carry their own meaning and whereas many Nigerians are familiar with the names, the meanings may be unknown to them. All these names come with their own unique stories ranging from early settlers, famous men and women to rivers.

Here are the meanings of the names of the 36 states.


This state formed in 1991 was formed with the first letters of the four main groups of people who inhabited the land. Therefore, Abia is the acronym for Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato, and Afikpo.


This state got its name from a 19th warrior, Modibbo Adama Bin Ardo Hassan who conquered the region.


Akwa Ibom takes its name from the Qua Iboe (or Kwa Iboe) River.


Anambra is the corrupted version of Oma Mbala (Ànyịm Ọma Mbala), a river in the region.


There are three folklores surrounding the meaning of Bauchi. The first is, Bauchi is a Hausa word which means the southern flanks of Hausaland and the people who live there are referred to as “kasashen bauchi”. With time, the area came to be known as Bauchi, dropping the prefix word.

The second is, Bauchi got its name from a popular 19th hunter named Baushe.

The last meaning is; the area is very known for its role in the slave trade as it was the center for slave traders. Slaves are referred to as Bauchi in Hausa so the area came to be known as such.


There were three local government areas that were formed from old Rivers state. Bayelsa is however an acronym derived from these three areas. Brass LGA or BALGA, Yenegoa LGA or YELGA and Sagbama LGA otherwise known as SALGA.


Certain local words got European spins to them and that included Benue which is a rip-off word for ‘Binuwe,’ the Batta word for ‘Mother of Waters’.


The Kanuri were the prominent ethnic group in the area and they are sometimes referred to as “Borno” hence the state was named after them.

Cross River

It is named after the Oyono River or Cross River.


A delta is formed when the River Niger enters the Atlantic Ocean and the state got its name from the act.


Ebonyi is the corrupted version of ‘Aboine’, a river that passes through Abakaliki, the state capital.


Edoor Iduu is the name used by the Bini people who settled in the region to describe themselves and the state got its name from them.


Okiti or Ekiti means a settlement of many hills.


The landscape of the area is that of hills and rocks and the Igbos refer to it as “Enu Ugwu” which means “top of the hill”. The name of the state was then coined or anglicized to be Enugu.


The name of this state is derived from the dialect of Fulani language (Fulfulde), Gombe, spoken in the area.


This state is also named after the popular river in the region, Imo Mmiri.


A uniquely golden-colored soil is prominent in this region and the state’s name, Jigawa was coined from this soil.


The Kaduna River is notorious for its many crocodiles. ‘Kadunas’ is also the plural Hausa word for crocodiles.


Kano was a blacksmith from Gaya who made the region his home as he sourced for ironstone and the state got its name from him.


Katsina is the name of the wife of the famous local ruler known as Janzama.


Kebbi is variation of the Ka’abba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.


The well-known confluence in Nigeria is located in this state and the name Kogi is from the Hausa word, Kogin, meaning river.


This state got its name from River Niger formerly known as River Kwara by the Nupes at the Northern border of the state.


Lagos is simply the Portuguese word for lakes. In 1472, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Lagos and seeing the many lagoons and rivers in the town, they decided the name Lagos will be befitting.


It means ‘victorious’ given to the state by the founder of the Nasawara Kingdom in Makama Dogo.


Niger state was named after River Niger.


This state takes its name from the Ogun River.


Ondo means settlers and the state got its name from the early settlers of the Ondo Kingdom.


This state was named after the River Osun.


It got its name from the old Oyo empire.


The state was named after the beautiful Jos plateau.


This region is made up of different water bodies and the state was named Rivers to reflect the landscape.


Sokoto was named after the defunct Sokoto Caliphate. Sokoto itself is an anglicized version of the Arabic word ‘Suk” which means market or ‘place of commerce.’


Like many other states, Taraba is named after the Tabara river.


This state takes its name after the Komadugu Yobe (Waube or Ouobe) or River Yobe (or River of Yo).


The state’s name was derived from Zamfarawa, a subdialect of the Eastern Hausa people.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 26, 2021


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