One thing I’ve learned in life is that there’s always a story behind every nickname; but it’s not always the story you expect.
When my mom was 12, she went on vacation with her mother and grandmother to Canada. As a pre-teen, she wasn’t the easiest to get along with, and my great-grandma quickly tired of her attitude. She decided that it would be best for my mom to spend the day in time out, and threatened to leave her in the hotel room if she didn’t clean up her act. “She wouldn’t leave me here alone in a foreign country,” my mom thought.
As my grandma and great-grandma headed out from the hotel for a nice dinner in the city, they locked the door behind them, leaving my mom to reflect on her inappropriate behavior. Ever since then, my mom has called her grandma “meanie,” and the nickname stuck for more than 20 years. I grew up hearing that, and it never even seemed strange to me until I learned the story behind it.
State nicknames can be the same way. Some may have an obvious origin, but others like “The Tar Heel State” leave you wondering. We’re going to fill you in on all the backstories of some of these seemingly meaningless nicknames, so hang tight, and you might just learn a thing or two about your own home state.
Alabama — “Yellowhammer State”
This nickname dates all the way back to the 1860s when the Civil War was in full swing. Pieces of yellow cloth resembling the Yellowhammer bird were attached to confederate uniforms and earned soldiers the nickname “yellowhammers.” It caught on and eventually became the unofficial state nickname.
Alaska — “The Last Frontier”
Alaska was the 49th state to join the union, hence the nickname “The Last Frontier.” Only 1/3 of the land in the entire state has been defined by cities and towns, leaving a vast expanse of undisturbed, remote landscape.
Arizona — “The Grand Canyon State”
The Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most famous national park and its claim to fame. The term “grand canyon” was coined in the 1870s by John Wesley Powell during his exploration of the Colorado River.
Arkansas — “The Natural State”
An abundance of beautiful natural geographical structures like rivers, caves, hills, and valleys all contribute to this nickname. The variety of plants and animals that call this state home only adds to its natural beauty.
California — “The Golden State”
The Gold Rush had a lot to do with the publishing of this nickname. Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the state to find their fortunes. California seems to radiate gold, with the Golden Gate Bridge, The Golden Slate Museum, and the fields of golden poppies that bloom in the springtime.
Colorado — “The Centennial State”
Colorado joined the union in 1876, 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The state is also commonly referred to as “Colorful Colorado” because of the beautiful mountain backdrop.
Connecticut — “The Constitution State”
Connecticut’s nickname was declared in 1959 by the General Assembly because some historians believe the Fundamental Orders of 1638-39, which were written in Connecticut, were the first written rules of government to be used in the U.S.
Delaware — “The First State”
Delaware was the first of the original 13 states to ratify the constitution, according to Delaware Code Title 29 Chapter 3. That fact alone merits the nickname, but the state is also known by several other nicknames like “The Diamond State,” “Small Wonder,” and “Blue Hen State.”
Florida — “The Sunshine State”
The subtropical climate of this state makes its sandy beaches an ideal place to enjoy the sunshine. And Florida has a lot of that so the nickname naturally followed. The nickname was formally adopted in 1970.
Georgia — “The Peach State”
Peaches grown in Georgia are known to be fantastically delicious and you can bet when you buy a Georgia-grown peach, it’s going to be great quality. The peach was named the state’s official fruit in 1995.
Hawaii — “The Aloha State”
In 1959, Hawaii gained its statehood in America and was deemed “The Aloha State” right away. Aloha is a well-known Hawaiian greeting used in lieu of “hello” or “goodbye.”
Idaho — “The Gem State”
The word “Idaho” means “gem of the mountains” in the language of the Shoshone Native Americans. The mountains of Idaho contain a wealth of precious minerals and gems including jade, topaz, zircon, and star garnets, the state mineral.
Illinois — “The Land of Lincoln”
Abraham Lincoln began his political career in Illinois and was living in the state when he was elected for the presidency in 1861. The slogan was adopted in 1955 and although he was actually born in Kentucky, Lincoln’s highly active political life in Illinois warranted the nickname.
Indiana — “The Hoosier State”
There are a number of theories about where the word ‘hoosier’ came from but the first known usage was in a letter, written in 1827. By the 1830s, the term was widely used but the origin was still unknown. Some historians argue that the word ‘hoosher,’ as used in John Finley’s poem The Hoosier’s Nest, is in reference to the integrity and bravery of the people of Indiana, but it is likely to remain a mystery forever.
Iowa — “The Hawkeye State”
Iowa’s nickname is actually in honor of a native american leader, Chief Black Hawk, who was relocated to Iowa after settlers took over his people’s land. One of Iowa’s newspaper publishers was friends with Black Hawk and renamed his paper The Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot to honor him. “The Hawkeye State” was suggested by a judge and was made official in 1838.
Kansas — “The Sunflower State”
During the late summer months, fields all over Kansas are covered in wild sunflowers, as they stretch their faces to the sun. Back in 1895, the sunflower was considered a weed by some while others admired its ability to grow in harsh conditions.
Kentucky — “The Bluegrass State”
When the early pioneers came to Kentucky, traders would ask for “blue grass of Kentucky” because the grass in the fields grew with small blue buds. Those buds gave off a bluish tint across the grasslands of northern Kentucky. Today, the nickname is associated with both the actual grass and bluegrass music.
Louisiana — “The Pelican State”
Nearly 40,000 brown pelicans reside in the state of Louisiana today. They have been a symbol of the state ever since pioneers settled the land. The species was commissioned to be the state bird in 1966.
Maine — “The Pine Tree State”
In Maine’s early statehood days, the tall trunks of White Pine trees were used to make the masts of ships. The White Pines that grow in Maine are some of the tallest trees that grow in North America, and they provide beautiful, lush coverage to the landscape. The thick pine forests and historical importance to the coastal state merited the nickname “The Pine Tree State.”
Maryland — “The Old Line State”
Historians say that the nickname came from George Washington himself, in reference to the Maryland Line troops. These troops fought in the American Revolutionary War and their bravery is well-renowned throughout the country. The “old line” became a symbol of the entire state as Washington continued to refer to it within his writings.
Massachusetts — “The Bay State”
It’s not certain how the nickname “The Bay State” came about, but historians speculate it could have had something to do with the fact that early pioneers settled on Cape Cod Bay. The nickname could also come from the Massachusetts Bay Company, who governed New England until 1684.
Michigan — “The Wolverine State”
Many say the state got its nickname from the large amount of wolverines that once populated the area, but the Michigan Historical Center argues that the land most likely only had a few wolverines roaming around, if any at all. Another theory for the origin of the state nickname is a result of the Toledo War. During the dispute over the Toledo Strip, Ohioans were rumored to have said Michiganders were “as vicious and bloodthirsty as wolverines.”
Minnesota — “The North Star State”
This nickname came from the state motto, “L’Étoile du Nord” or “the Star of the North,” declared by Minnesota’s first governor. Another popular nickname is “Land of 10,000 Lakes” which is a long-standing legend. Interestingly, there are more than 11,000 lakes in Minnesota.
Mississippi — “The Magnolia State”
The magnolia flower thrives in Mississippi and covers the entirety of the state. Naturally, the nickname followed, with such a vast number magnolia trees and flowers, and influenced the official state nickname, the official state tree, and the official state flower.
Missouri — “The Show-Me State”
In 1899, a Missouri’s U.S. Congressman made a statement during a speech that has stuck for more than 100 years. He said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Some also say the “Show Me State” nickname refers to its residents’ conservative, tenacious and skeptical characteristics.
Stay tuned for the next 25 state nicknames, coming next week! Until then, have you heard any other interesting nicknames for these states? Please share with us. We’d love to hear more!