Many name changes have been proposed in recent weeks, and now the state of Rhode Island will be changing its official name. Technically, the state's full name is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," and this has made Rhode Island the smallest state in the US, with the largest name.
However, the fact that the word "plantation" is in the name has become increasingly controversial amid growing protests for racial equality.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order on Monday taking the "first steps" to change the state’s full name, and shorten it to simply "Rhode Island," which is what most people know it as anyway. Although, the order does not change the state’s official name permanently, voters will need to amend the Rhode Island Constitution in order for that to happen. This may be a reality soon, because the state's legislature has indicated it will move forward with the referendum. The bill was introduced by Rhode Island’s sole black senator, Harold Metts.
“Whatever the meaning of the term ‘plantations’ in the context of Rhode Island’s history, it carries a horrific connotation when considering the tragic and racist history of our nation,” Metts said in a statement to the Providence Journal.
This is not the first time that there has been an attempt to change the name, but this is the farthest any of these attempts have gone. In 2010, almost 78 percent of voters opposed a constitutional amendment removing ‘Providence Plantations’ from the state’s name, but the sentiments around the issue have changed in the past ten years.
Just after the recent protests began an online petition began circulating calling for the state to change its name.
“Some Rhode Islanders pride themselves on living in the ‘smallest state with the longest name.’ But, the history of how we got this name is often forgotten,” the petition reads.
It currently has almost 8000 signatures.
The original name is derived from the merger of four Colonial settlements. The settlements of Newport and Portsmouth were situated on what is commonly called Aquidneck Island today but was called Rhode Island in Colonial times. Providence Plantation was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams in the state's capital of Providence.
The earliest documented use of the name "Rhode Island" for Aquidneck was in 1637 by Roger Williams. The name was officially applied to the island in 1644 with these words: "Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Isle of Rodes or Rhode-Island." The name "Isle of Rodes" is used in a legal document as late as 1646. Dutch maps as early as 1659 call the island "Red Island."
Rhode Island covers an area of 1,214 square miles located within the New England region and is bordered on the north and east by Massachusetts, on the west by Connecticut, and on the south by Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. It shares a narrow border with New York State between Block Island and Long Island.
Rhode Island is nicknamed the Ocean State and has a number of oceanfront beaches.