In Modern Chinese, the name Sichuan means "four rivers", and in folk etymology this is usually taken to mean the province's four major rivers: the Jialing, Jinsha, Min, and Tuo. In fact, the name of the province is a contraction of the phrases Sì Chuānlù (四川路, "Four River Circuits") and Chuānxiá Sìlù (川峡四路, "Four Circuits of Rivers and Gorges"), referring to the division of the existing imperial administrative circuit into four during the Northern Song dynasty. In addition to its postal map and Wade-Giles forms, the name has also been irregularly romanized as Szű-chuan and Szechuan.
In antiquity, the area of modern Sichuan including the now separated Chongqing Municipality was known to the Chinese as Ba-Shu, in reference to the ancient states of Ba and Shu that once occupied the Sichuan Basin. Shu continues to be used to refer to the Sichuan region all through its history right up to the present day; a number of states formed in the area used the same name, for example the Shu of the Three Kingdoms period, and Former Shu and Later Shu of the Ten Kingdoms period.