At first glance it may seem odd that a state that is not an island has the word “island” in its name. Even odder is that the full legal name of Rhode Island is: The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The smallest state has the longest name.
The explanation comes from the fact that the state that we know today was formed from a merger of two colonies. Providence Plantations was a colony in the area of the modern city of Providence, established as a site of religious freedom in 1636. Rhode Island colony was founded two years later on the largest island in the adjacent Narragansett Bay. At that time the island’s name was Aquidneck, but was later changed to Rhode Island.
By 1647 the two large settlements, along with two other small ones, agreed to unite in order to protect themselves against other colonies. It was at that time that they united under the “Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” which was the predecessor of the state name.
An interesting sidenote: In November of 2010 residents of the state were invited to vote on whether to keep the full, long version of their name, or legally change it to simply “Rhode Island.” By a vote of almost 80%, residents made it clear they wanted to keep the long version.