State Nicknames, Part 1

When I posted about Word Games to use for your summer road travel, a couple of commenters mentioned that they play the license plate game. The license plate game is essentially an activity of finding license plates that represent as many of the 50 states as possible. Most of those license plates include a state nickname, such as the Land of Enchantment or the Hawkeye State.

For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s look at how those state nicknames came to be. Since there are so many, I will take them on thirds (I considered halves, but the post got way too long). Today I’ll cover the first 17 states, two weeks from today the next 17, and in another couple of weeks, the last 16.

Note to my non-American friends: I would love to know whether other countries’ provinces, territories, states, etc. adopt nicknames and what they are. So make sure you stay tuned and add your knowledge to the topic in the comments section.

Alabama – Yellowhammer State. The yellowhammer, or flicker, is the state bird of Alabama. During the Civil War, the yellowhammer nickname was given to Confederate soldiers when a Huntsville, Alabama company of cavalry soldiers arrived at Hopkinsville, KY. The soldiers who had been on the battlefield for some time had faded, worn uniforms, but the Alabama newbies had new uniforms with bits of brilliant yellow cloth on the sleeves, collars, and coattails. The new company was greeted as yellowhammers, and soon all Alabama troops were referred to as yellowhammers. Indeed, Confederate Veterans in Alabama took pride in the nickname and wore a yellowhammer feather in  their caps or lapels during reunions. Source: Alabama Department of Archives and History

Alaska – The Last Frontier. Alaska is commonly known as the Last Frontier and sometimes the land of the midnight sun. The frontier reference is due to Alaska being admitted as the 49th state of the union and its location far from the contingent 48 states. Moreover, the rugged landscape and frontier spirit of Alaskans supports this nickname. Source: State of Alaska Kids Corner

Arizona – The Grand Canyon State. This nickname was officially adopted in 2009 and obviously derives from the state’s most noted geographical feature–the Grand Canyon, a 277-mile canyon etched by the Colorado River. The state is also referred to at times as the Copper State because of its extensive mining of this metal. Sources: Arizona Office of Tourism, Arizona State Library

Arkansas – The Natural State. Once called the Land of Opportunity, Arkansas adopted its current official nickname of The Natural State in 1995. Arkansas has many natural wildlife areas, including 52 state parks and 7 national parks. However, a 2011 bill suggested returning to the opportunity nickname; that bill was put on hold. Maybe they should go for “The Natural Opportunity State.” Source: The Arkansas News

California – The Golden State. Adopted in 1968, California is considered “golden” because of the Gold Rush of 1848 (when gold was discovered) and fields of golden poppies that appear each spring across the state. Source: California State Library

Colorado – The Centennial State. A simple one! Colorado became a state in 1876, one hundred years after the United States’ Declaration of Independence. So it’s the Centennial State. Source: Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration

Connecticut – The Constitution State. Connecticut boasts that it was the first state with a written constitution, the Fundamental Orders drawn up in 1638/1639. Thus, the nickname. Source: Connecticut State Library

Delaware – The First State. Delaware was the first of the original 13 states to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787.  It is thus known as The First State, a nickname officially adopted in 2002. Source: State of Delaware – Delaware.gov

Florida – The Sunshine State. Although this nickname has been used on license plates since 1949, it was officially adopted as the state nickname in 1970. As you might imagine, Florida is known for its temperate weather and sun-drenched days. It is also a catchy slogan to attract tourists. Source: MyFlorida.com

Georgia – The Peach State. While there is no official state nickname, the Georgia legislature authorized issuing license plates with “Peach State” on them way back in 1939. Georgia grows a lot of peaches, and the peach was designated as the state fruit in 1995. Source: GeorgiaInfo

Hawaii – The Aloha State. “Aloha” is a common greeting or salutation in the Hawaiian language, which conveys blessing and well wishes. This state nickname was adopted at the time that Hawaii became a state in 1959. Source: The Hawaiian Islands, Go Hawaii

Idaho – The Gem State. Idaho has been called The Gem State since its territorial days. Presumably, the word Idaho derived from an Indian word “EDah-Hoe” meaning “Gem of the Mountains” or “Light on the Mountain.” But it was more likely a neologism adopted by people trying to establish the Idaho Territory. As it turns out, Idaho does have gem and mineral treasures as well. Source: Idaho Geological Survey – University of Idaho

Illinois – Land of Lincoln. While Illinois is often referred to as the Prairie State for the extensive presence of prairies, its official slogan is Land of Lincoln, adopted in 1955. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States and by many considered the best, hailed from Illinois. Source: Illinois Times

Indiana – The Hoosier State. I remember researching “hoosier” once before. Here’s the quick scoop: Theories abound, but no one knows where the original word Hoosier (and sometimes “hoosher”) came from. A Hoosier is simply a native of Indiana. Thus, it’s the Hoosier State. Source: Indiana Historical Society

Iowa – The Hawkeye State. A Hawkeye is a native of Iowa. While Hawkeye was the name of a character in The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper (1826), I was unable to determine how this moniker made its way to Illinois. However, in 1981, the Iowa Legislature adopted the Hawkeye State nickname, noting that “the word ‘Hawkeyes’ has been used as a familiar designation of the people of Iowa for one hundred thirty-five years” and was “reportedly was first printed as a reference to Iowans in the Fort Madison Patriot…at the suggestion of Judge David Rorer to prevent the people of other states from giving Iowans a less flattering nickname.” Source: Iowa.gov.

Kansas – The Sunflower State. Sunflowers are prevalent on Kansas plains, and the wild native sunflower is the state flower. Thus, the state has been given the nickname The Sunflower State. Source: Kansas Historical Society

Kentucky – The Bluegrass State. Bluegrass grows in lawns and pastures throughout the state. The flower heads of this plant are blue when it grows to its natural height of two to three feet. Source: Kentucky Secretary of State

So that’s the first 17! Next time, Louisiana to North Dakota.

So what do you think about states adopting nicknames? Should these nicknames appear on license plates? Which of the above nicknames is your favorite or interesting to you?

And Happy Independence Day to those in the United States celebrating our history of freedom!

11 thoughts on “State Nicknames, Part 1

  1. I lived in Indiana for 3 years–always loved the Hoosier nickname, even if I didn’t know what it meant!!!

  2. I was unaware of many of these. My favorite is Kansas’s nickname, The Sunflower State. I love sunflowers so much that I have a tattoo of a ring of sunflowers around my navel. I also like The Last Frontier for Alaska. Something about that name awakens my imagination.

    Thanks for posting these. It’s an interesting bit of trivia.

  3. My favorite, of course, is the Sunshine State. LOL Great research, Julie! I have to add, though, I was disappointed about the meaning of “Hoosier.” I had all sorts of fantastical etymologies for that term. Oh well. 😉

    1. I thought you’d be petitioning for Margarita State! 😉

      There are all kinds of theories for Hoosier, including “Who’s here?” statements, Hoosa–an Indian name for corn, “Huzzah!” said after a fight victory, and more. The best source I found on this was Indiana University (http://www.indiana.edu/~librcsd/internet/extra/hoosier.html), if you or anyone else cares. Personally, I’d like to advance the Dr. Seuss Theory, that the Whos became Hoos, and ville became here. So instead of Whoville, you have Hoos-here…hoosier. What d’ya think?

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