Pennsylvania isn’t named after William Penn. And if you’re confused, he deliberately wanted you to be. William Penn preferred the name “New Wales” for Pennsylvania to avoid the appearance that the commonwealth was named after him.

It’s pretty to think that Pennsylvania was named after its founder, William Penn, who started the commonwealth as a “Holy Experiment” in religious liberty. The name literally means “Penn’s Woods,” but it’s not named for William Penn. It’s actually named after his father. That’s because King Charles II of England owed Admiral Sir William Penn — William Penn’s father — a large sum of money late in the 17th Century and in payment, the king granted the late Admiral’s son a tract of land in the new world — what we now call “Pennsylvania.”

But that’s not what William Penn wanted it to be called. Penn’s originaly wanted the new colony named New Wales, partly because he thought it looked like Wales, partly because he wanted to honor his Welsh ancestry, and partly because he didn’t want people thinking he named the place after himself. If not “New Wales,” he thought “Sylvania” — or just “woods” — would work but in the end, the decision was the King’s, and he chose “Pennsylvania,” — or “Penn’s Woods” to honor William Penn’s father.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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