How the 36 States in Nigeria obtained their names

States in Nigeria: Lagos city

Nigeria, a country situated in Western Africa, has been inhabited as far as 3000 years ago. There 36 States in Nigeria. In fact, one of Africa’s oldest cultures – the Nok culture, exists in the northern part of the country. Until the 1960s, areas of the country were divided into regions, but they were not united as a country until the English arrived in the 1800s.

From 1914, the country was divided into the Southern and Northern Protectorate by the English until 1967 when the first 12 states were created from the four regions in Nigeria. More states have been created since totalling a number of 36 states.

Click here to read “What Britain did to Nigeria” by Max Siollun 

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 to famous individuals to rivers and historical places. 

Out of all 36 states, only 11 were named after a river in the State. 

Here are the meanings of the 36 states in alphabetical order: 


The state was created in 1991. The State’s name is an acronym that was derived from the first letters of the four main groups of people who inhabited the land. The acronym is, A – for Aba, B – for Bende, I – for Isuikwuato  and A – for Afikpo  


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

Akwa Ibom 

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


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


There are three tales surrounding the meaning of Bauchi. The first is, Bauchi is a Hausa word which means the southern flanks of Hausa land. The people who live there were 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-century hunter named Baushe. 

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

Click to read How Africans were lured to Slavery with the Jesus ship


Bayelsa State was created from the old Rivers State in Nigeria. There were three Local Government areas that made up the old Rivers State. It is from these LGAs that Bayelsa got its acronym name from. Brass LGA or BALGA, Yenegoa LGA or YELGA and Sagbama LGA otherwise known as SALGA.  


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


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

Cross River 

Cross River was named after the Oyono River or Cross River found in the area. 


Whenever the River Niger enters the Atlantic Ocean, a delta is formed. It is from this act that the State got its name from. 


Ebonyi is the anglicized version of ‘Aboine’, a river that passes through Abakaliki, the State’s capital. 


Edo State got its name from Edoor Idu, a name used by the Bini people who settled in the region to describe themselves. 

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Okiti or Ekiti means a settlement of many hills. 


Hills and rocks are what makes up the landscape of the area, which the Igbos refer to as “Enu Ugwu” which means “top of the hill”. The name of the state was then anglicized to Enugu. 


The State’s name is derived from the dialect of Fulani language called Fulfulde, otherwise called Gombe, spoken in the area. 


The State like many others is also named after a popular river in the region. The River the State was named is called Imo Mmiri. 


A uniquely golden-coloured soil called Jigawa is prominent in this region. It is from the soil; the State’s name was from. 


Kaduna is the Hausa name for crocodiles. The Kaduna River, a river in the area 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. The state was named after him. 


Katsina was named after the widow of a notable local monarch in the Janzama region. The great Queen worthy of emulation, which is why the state was named after her.


Kebbi is a 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. 


The State got its name from River Niger, formerly known as River Kwara by the Nupes at the state’s northern border. 


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. 


Nasarawa was named by the founder of Nasarawa Kingdom. The name means victorious. 


Niger State was named after River Niger. 


This State takes its name from the Ogun River. 


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


The 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. 


The State 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.’ 


The State is named after the Tabara River. 


This State takes its name after the River Yobe, also known as Komadugu Yobe (Waube or Ouobe). 


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


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