For me, one of the cutest things about the USA is the state nicknames. In my little country of Britain (which is smaller than some states) we have counties and they have nicknames, but they aren’t really used very much. For example, I live in Northamptonshire, which is nicknamed ‘The Rose of The Shires,’ and Kent is known as ‘The Garden of England’; both cute, but we don’t proudly display them on our license plates, for example. I thought I would educate myself and find out the state nicknames I didn’t know. Want to know all 50? Come with me on a journey round the USA.
1 United States of America
I know this is about state nicknames but we have to include the country too – right? The United States of America (the official name) is a federal republic consisting of fifty states. Many people usually don't call it by its official name and instead use nicknames. It usually depends on the geographic location of different people. For instance, most Brits call it the States, the USA, the Land Across the Pond, and of course, America. The Chinese use 'Mei-Guo' to refer to the United States of America – Mei means beautiful, whereas Guo means a nation. Some other nicknames are Uncle Sam, Home of the Brave, the Land of Freedom, the Melting Pot, the West, Land of Milk and Honey, Land of Opportunity, and of course, the Land of the Free.
Alabama got its nickname of the Yellowhammer State from the Civil War. When a company of soldiers, under the command of Rev. D.C. Kelly, joined the already deployed troops at Hopkinsville, KY, the difference between the uniforms of the new troops and the old ones was quite stark. The sleeves, collars, and coattails were made of a bright yellow cloth and when the troops paraded past the Company A, a soldier cried out 'Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, flicker, flicker.' As so often happens, the name stuck!
Alaska gets its name the Last Frontier because of its endless opportunities and so many lightly-settled regions. However, more interesting is its second nickname, Land of the Midnight Sun, originating from the fact that some places in Alaska have sunshine nearly 24 hours a day!
Home to the Grand Canyon, it comes as no surprise that Arizona's nickname the Grand Canyon State stems from its most treasured natural feature. Numerous states are tagged with multiple state nicknames. Arizona is also known as the Copper State because of its richness in minerals.
Being blessed with gifts bestowed by Mother Nature, Arkansas is known as the Natural State. Clear lakes and streams, abundance of wildlife and natural beauty define the nickname of this state.
Many states have experienced considerable development in the last few decades. For California, this development started more than 150 years ago with the discovery of gold in 1848. It therefore comes as no surprise that California is known as the Golden State. The Golden State Museum in Sacramento is a must visit to learn about the history of California.
Colorado became a state in 1878, exactly 100 years after the Declaration of Independence. This fact gives the state its nickname Centennial State. The state has an abundance of natural beauty, mountains, plains and rivers. If you have ever been there and looked for a souvenir to take with you, you will know quite well that the state is also fondly referred to as Colorful Colorado!
John Fiske, a historian from Connecticut, claimed that the first written evidence of a US constitution was the Fundamental Orders of 1638/39. His claims were confirmed by E. Baldwin, the former Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Hence, the state got its nickname of the Constitution State. Connecticut also has a few other state nicknames like Nutmeg State, Provisions State and the Land of Steady Habits (so cute!).
Delaware was the first of the original 13 states. Therefore, it doesn't come as a surprise that many people know it by the name of The First State. Thomas Jefferson once described the state as a 'jewel' and gave it the name the Diamond State – he used this nickname mainly due to the strategic location of this state on the Eastern Seaboard. It is also called the Blue Hen State because cockfighting was a popular entertainment of soldiers.
There was once a law in the state of Florida requiring people to use the words Sunshine State on motor vehicle licenses. This resulted in the state being officially awarded the nickname of the Sunshine State. I think that due to the popularity of holidays in Florida this is probably one of the most well known nicknames of US states.
Georgia is home to the highest quality peaches found not just in America, but also in the rest of the world. The significance of the fruit is so great that in 1995 it became the official fruit of the state. It therefore comes as no surprise that the state is nicknamed the Peach State.
Hawaii is the most recent of the 50 US states. It is also the only US state that is made up entirely of islands. Nicknamed as the Aloha State, it is home to active volcanoes and a warm tropical climate. The abundance of beaches and stupendous oceanic surroundings make it a popular destination among tourists.
In 1863, the congress gave the state its name 'Idaho' thinking that it was a word from the Shoshoni language meaning Gem of the Mountains. Despite the mistake, the state is called the Gem State. (I always thought of it as the Potato State but I’m sure that’s not one of the official state nicknames.)
Illinois is home to prairies and has done a great job preserving them. The third week in September is set aside only for the preservation and reestablishment of the native Illinois prairies. Illinois is therefore commonly known as the Prairie State.
John Finley of Richmond wrote a poem 'The Hoosier Nest' that was also used as the carrier address of the Indianapolis Journal. A few days after that, John W. Davis offered “The Hoosier State of Indiana” as a toast at the Jackson Day dinner. That was all that was needed for the name to be more widely used as the nickname of the state. It is worth mentioning that it was in 1830 when this nickname first came into general usage, but it actually started gaining popularity in 1833.
James G. Edwards suggested the name Hawkeye State as a tribute to the Indian leader Chief Black Hawk. Iowa is also the only US state whose eastern and western borders are formed entirely by rivers. It has the Mississippi river on the east and the Missouri River and the Big Sioux River on the west.
Kansas has large fields of wild sunflowers in its plains. This has resulted in this gorgeous and showy flower being the official flower of the state and Sunflower State as its nickname.
Blue grass, so called because it produces a blue-purplish bud on the top, is a prominent feature of the state of Kentucky. When seen in large fields, the buds give a blue tinge to the grass. That fooled many a visitor to ask for the seeds of the blue grass of Kentucky. This was enough to give Kentucky one of the prettiest nicknames for US states, the Bluegrass State.
The brown pelican is a bird native to Louisiana. As with many other state nicknames that stem from their native or unique features and creatures, the state of Louisiana is known as the Pelican State.
Maine is covered by over 17 million acres of forest. The white pine tree is the official state symbol and also gives the state its nickname of the Pine Tree State.
The Maryland Line, a regular line of troops from Maryland, fought bravely in many revolutionary battles. Due to its significance in the wars, Gen. George Washington referred to the state as the Old Line State, which stuck as its nickname for over 150 years.
Massachusetts is in close proximity to several large bays. That was the reason why many early settlers used to refer to it as the Bay State. The state is also referred to as the Old Colony State because of its original Plymouth colony.
It is commonly believed that the Ohioans gave Michigan its nickname of the Wolverine State. It happened during a dispute over the Toledo strip, a land strip between Michigan and Ohio. Because of the ferociousness of their tenacity, the people of Michigan were thought of as 'Wolverines,' giving the state its nickname the Wolverine State. It is important to point out that many people think the Wolverine State is the nickname Michigan received from Native Americans for Michigan settlers – they compare them to wolverines. Another honor for Michigan is that it has over 11,000 lakes and touches four of the five great lakes – this gives it its nickname the Great Lake State, making it another with multiple state nicknames. This nickname was so popular during '70s and '80s that people in Michigan used to have Great Lake State featured on their automobile license plates.
The state motto of Minnesota is 'The Star of North.' The motto is derived from the sense of direction that this state has given the people over the course of time. Its nickname, North Star State, is derived from the same motto. Minnesota is also known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, though it has 12,000+ lakes actually!
Mississippi has an abundance of magnolia flowers and trees. With the magnolia flower being the official state flower and the magnolia tree being the official state tree, the nickname of Magnolia State was but a natural choice.
Missouri had a representative, Willard Van Diver, who was known for his self-deprecating stubbornness and devotion to simple common sense. Interestingly, his character was so unique that the state was nicknamed as the Show Me State because of him. Is there a more interesting one among the state nicknames?
Montana is the fourth largest US state in terms of size. Its state seal depicts a miner's pick and shovel right above the motto. The seal represents the importance of mining in Montana and also gives it the nickname the Treasure State.
Nebraska is nicknamed Cornhusker State. It is derived from the athletic team of the University of Nebraska who were known as the 'Cornhuskers.' Before this name was coined, Nebraska was also known as 'Bugeaters,' 'Antelopes,' and 'Golden Knights'.' The term cornhuskers itself comes from the method of harvesting corn by hand in old times. The method was known as 'husking' – it stayed in practice until the invention of husking machinery.
Nevada has a large silver mining industry, hence the nickname Silver State. Nevada also has an abundance of the wild sage, which is the reason why it is also known as 'Sage State' and 'Sagebrush State.'
30 New Hampshire
Much of the New Hampshire landscape is granite and the state once also had a large granite quarrying industry. This industry gave it the nickname of the Granite State.
31 New Jersey
New Jersey's nickname stems from a strange story. Hon. Abraham Browning, a distinguished citizen of Camden, remarked at the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia on 24th August 1876, that “our Garden State is like a huge barrel with both ends open. Both the ends are plucked by New York and Pennsylvania on either side.”
32 New Mexico
New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. These words are frequently witnessed on car license plates and state publications for tourism promotion.
33 New York
New York is among the richest states of America both in terms of wealth and resources. It could not have a nickname that depicts its resources better than the Empire State.
34 North Carolina
North Carolina is the Old North State. During the division of Carolina in 1710, the North Carolinians fought bravely to protect their land. After one of the fiercest battles, a passing regiment asked them, at least so the legend goes, “Any more tar left in the Old North State, boys?” Tar was one of the main products of the state at that time, but it was not the reference to tar that is remembered, but the way the name of the state was taken. Till now, the state has the nickname Old North State.
35 North Dakota
The nickname Peace Garden State was put on motor license plates way before it was used as the state's nickname. The Flickertail State is another nickname for the state and refers to the Richardson ground squirrels that are found in abundance in the state. These squirrels flicker or jerk their tail while running or before entering their burrow. Another sporting various state nicknames – for promotion of tourism, North Dakota has also been referred to as the Roughrider State.
Ohio is the Buckeye State and gets its name from the numerous buckeye trees that were a prominent feature covering its hills and plains. The nut resembles the eye of the buck and the Indian people used to refer to it as 'hetuck' or 'buckeye.'
In 1889, Oklahoma opened the Indian Territory to the settlers. Once they got the signal, thousands of people that had gathered ran to claim their land. These people who got there early became known as Sooners. Hence the name: The Sooner State.
Oregon is the Beaver State, acquiring its name from its official animal, the beaver. The beaver has a special type of fur that is of high value and this was the reason why it was hunted down and brought near extinction. However, many measures were taken to protect the beavers and now they are an important economic asset of the state. Referred to as nature's engineer, its natural dam building activities help in natural water flow and erosion control.
Pennsylvania is a state that has considerable importance for America in terms of economic, political and social development. It was toasted as “the keystone in the federal union” and referred to by one newspaper as “the keystone in the democratic arch.” The nickname Keystone State was commonly accepted after 1800.
40 Rhode Island
For the purpose of promotion of tourism, Rhode Island is referred to as the Ocean State. The state is also nicknamed Plantation State because of its full name 'The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.'
41 South Carolina
South Carolina is situated on the east coast and was originally part of the Province of Carolina before it was divided into North and South Carolina. The official state tree of the state is the Sabal Palmetto, giving it the nickname of the Palmetto State.
42 South Dakota
If there was one of the state nicknames that could be predicted, it is South Dakota. South Dakota possesses one of the biggest monuments in the USA, Mount Rushmore. Depicting four exalted US presidents – George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln – the monument gives the state of South Dakota its nickname of 'Mount Rushmore State.'
'The Volunteer State' is the most common nickname for the state of Tennessee, though it has a number of other names too. The nickname Big Bend State was penned after the Indian name of the Tennessee River while Hog and Hominy State refers to the corn and pork products of the state. Tennessee produced three presidents of the country as well as many other leaders who served on important positions in high government office. Due to this, the state earned a specific nickname – 'the Mother of Southwestern Statesmen.' Interestingly, many people also refer to Tennessee as 'Big Benders,' 'Volunteers,' and 'Butternuts' – the first two are actually the derivatives of the original nicknames of the state, but the last name became popular during the War Between the States where Tennessee soldiers wore tan colored uniforms.
Another of the most commonly known nicknames for US states, Texas is known as the Lone Star State because of a number of reasons. A single star pennant was a symbol of the Long Expedition in 1819 and Austin Colony in 1821. The early flags of the republic of Texas also included only a single star – a flag with a single star was flown during the Battle of Concepcion, and Joanna Troutman's flag with a lone star also made its way to Velasco during 1836. Davy Crockett also recorded in his diary that a lone star banner flew above the Alamo.
On March 4, 1959, a beehive was designated as the official state emblem of Utah. When Utah became a state in 1896, a beehive was used on the seal of the state and it represents the industry and pioneer virtues of perseverance in the state. The Beehive State is also the most religiously homogeneous state in the US with about 62% of its inhabitants being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In October of 1761, Rev. Dr. Peters referred to the Green Mountains in the state as Verd Mont. Its nickname is unsurprisingly, therefore, the Green Mountain State. Vermont is the 2nd least populous state of America.
Virginia, the Old Dominion State, became the fourth dominion of Charles II of England and he quartered the arms of the state on his shield in 1663. Virginia was the first of the US states to be colonized, which gave it its second nickname of the Mother State.
Washington is home to many evergreen forests. C. T. Coover, a pioneer Seattle realtor and respected historian, nicknamed the state of Washington as the Evergreen State. The nickname was made official in 1893. It is interesting that Washington is the only state nicknamed for a US president and it took until the 42nd state was formalized for that to happen.
49 West Virginia
West Virginia is nicknamed the Mountain State due to the incredible Appalachian Mountains that sit proudly throughout the eastern portion of the state.
The badger is the official state animal of Wisconsin and gives it the nickname of the Badger State. Over time, the animal has found its way as a symbol into the coat of arms, the flag and the seal. It is incorporated into the state capitol architecture and is a part of the song “Oh Wisconsin!”
And last but not least of the state nicknames we come to Wyoming. Wyoming has served the women's cause really well. It was the first state to allow the women to vote, hold public office and serve on juries. Due to this initiative in gender equality, it is nicknamed the Equality State.
I found this absolutely riveting to research. The nicknames for US states are so evocative. They either commemorate a significant event, describe the landscape, pick on a specific item of flora or fauna or tell the story of how people have viewed and made opinions of them. Do you have any favorites, or maybe you know of other not-so-commonly-known nicknames?