Rob Natelson's column "Why is our state called 'Montana'?" (March 10) delves into the history behind the name, but fails to present a convincing argument.
He dismisses the accepted belief that "Montana" derives from the Spanish "montaña," meaning mountain or mountainous area. Natelson researched that gold miner Josiah Hinman suggested the name Montana for a Colorado settlement in 1858. Natelson argues that Hinman, "a college graduate," would have studied Latin and known that “montana” means mountainous in Latin.
Natelson continues: Montana was considered as a place name soon after in neighboring Kansas. Within years, Montana was considered as a name for a territory by Congress. Some eastern senators — assumedly Latin-educated as Hinman — were flummoxed by the word and had to access a Latin dictionary.
Natelson simply assumes that Hinman proffered the name because of Latin education. But no one knows what was in Hinman's head — at least by Natelson's research — but it is very likely that Hinman knew the Spanish word montaña. After all, the Spanish had been in southwestern America for centuries by 1860, including present-day Colorado, which is an amalgam of former Mexican/U.S. and disputed territory. Everyday exposure to Spanish-speaking people would have made Hinman aware of montaña.