Learning about Spanish place names in the United States teaches children about Hispanic heritage and language.

The United States has states, cities, rivers and mountains with names in Spanish. Looking at the meaning of Spanish place names in the United States is a fun way to connect with the Hispanic heritage of the country and practice language skills at the same time.

The Spaniards who came to the Americas during the colonial period named many cities and land forms. For example, most people recognize cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco as having Spanish names. However, across the nation Spanish speakers named cities, rivers and streets. The Hispanic heritage of the United States is all over Google maps!

Of course, not all Spanish place names are historical. Non-Spanish speakers also chose Spanish names for cities in different parts of the country. Surely, there are housing developers naming their new projects “Buena Vista” even as you read this, but this too speaks to the impact of Spanish on the nation.

Spanish Place Names as Language Practice

I want my students to be aware of Spanish wherever they see it and to try to understand what they see and hear. So, I encourage them to ask about labels, signs, and songs on the radio.

In the past, they have asked about different Spanish place names in the United States, so I made this matching activity to practice reading and vocabulary. It’s also a great way to talk about the rich Hispanic heritage of the country.

Because much of the United States was originally colonized by Spain and later was part of Mexico, there are many Spanish place names in the western half of the country. I chose 15 places in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Missouri with Spanish names that language learners could understand.

Spanish Place Names in the United States Matching

  • Before we do this activity we talk about the best-known examples of Spanish place names in the United States, such as the states of Nevada, Colorado, Montana and Florida. Many students are familiar with Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, and we talk about what those names mean.
  • Then, I tell them there are many other Spanish place names in the United States and that we are going to look at a few of them and what they mean.
  • My students are familiar with the words ciudad, río, and lago, but not always condado. I draw our city and county as an example to make it clear.
  • To do the activity, students match a description to one of the names on the map. Then, they write the Spanish name and the state in the blank next to the description. For example, the students read Esta ciudad toma su nombre de los pumas que vivían en esa zona. Next, they search the map for a place name that fits and write Los Gatos, California beside the description.
  • If you are working with students who do not know the states, you can label them together before you start.

Spanish Place Names in the United States PDF

Download the free PDF Nombres de Origen Español activity:

Nombres de origen español

There are many other ways you can use Spanish place names in the United States to learn about Hispanic heritage and and also engage kids with language. Are there Spanish place names in your area? Have you talked about them with your family or in your classes? Please share your ideas!

Spanish place names in the United States are a great way to connect kids with Hispanic Heritage and language.

We are so excited for our seventh annual Hispanic Heritage Month series! Now through October 15, you’ll find great resources to share Hispanic Heritage with kids, plus you can link up your own posts on Hispanic Heritage!

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