State Nicknames, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I started a series on State Nicknames, and in Part 1 I explained the nickname origins of the first 17 of our 50 United States. For today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, I’m picking up the next seventeen, from Louisiana to North Dakota.

Louisiana – The Pelican State. The state bird of Louisiana is the Eastern Brown Pelican. The state seal and official flag (adopted in 1912) feature a pelican tearing flesh from its own breast to feed its young, which hails back to an old legend and represents the state protecting the people and the land. Louisiana is also known at times the Sportsman’s Paradise. Sources:, Louisiana Office of Tourism

Maine – The Pine Tree State. Maine adopted this moniker way back in 1895 due to the “abundance and value of eastern white pine.” Many years later, in 1945, the white pine tree became the official state tree. Source:

Maryland – The Old Line State. Maryland gets an A+ from me for having a research archivist, Ryan Polk, write a full article on the etymology of its state nickname. Essentially, Maryland’s “Old Line” was the regiment of regular soldiers in the Continental Army of the American Revolution. Their performance as effective, reliable, hard-fighting soldiers earned them the name the “Old Line,” and the sobriquet may have been coined by General George Washington himself. Maryland is also referred to at times as the Free State, for legally abolishing slavery in November 1864. Source: Maryland State Archives, Archives of Maryland Online

Massachusetts – The Bay State. Europeans in the New World established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s as settlements on the coast of the Atlantic Oceana, or the Massachusetts Bay. So it’s no surprise that the state has become the Bay State. Source: Massachusetts Citizen Information Service

Michigan – The Great Lake State or the Wolverine State. Michigan appears to have two nicknames. On one state site, the preferred name was the Great Lake State. This is attributable to Michigan being situated on the Great Lakes and having 38,575 square miles of Great Lake water area and 3,126 miles of Great Lake shoreline. Another state source gave the nickname as the Wolverine State. This is not due to a high population of wolverines, but rather a nickname Ohioans gave Michiganians during the 1835 Toledo War between their states. Wolverines have a reputation for being ornery. The University of Michigan later adopted the wolverine as its school mascot.  Sources: Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan-Your State Capitol, Absolute Michigan

Minnesota – The North Star State. While North Star State is the most common nickname for Minnesota, you’ll also see license plates with Land of 10,000 Lakes. The former references the state’s motto adopted in 1861–L’etoile du Nord, which means “Star of the North.” The latter is a reference to Minnesota’s vast number of lakes, which actually totals 11,842 more than 10 acres in size. If you count smaller lakes, the number tops 15,000. Sources: Minnesota Territorial Pioneers, Inc.; Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Mississippi – The Magnolia State. The Magnolia grandiflora, or Southern Magnolia, is a tree that grows in Mississippi and produces beautiful flowers. The tree itself was adopted as the state tree in 1938, and the magnolia became the state’s official flower in 1952. Thus, the Magnolia State. Sources: Mississippi Foresty Commission; The Mississippi Free State Republic

Missouri – The Show Me State. While not an official state nickname, this common slogan is found on license plates and is used to describe the state’s residents. The most popular legend for its origin gives credit to Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While on the House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver gave a speech at the 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia in which he stated, “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.” The phrase may have originated earlier, but Congressman Vandiver certainly spreads its usage. Source: Missouri Secretary of State

Montana – Big Sky Country. Montana has tested out several monikers without ever legislatively adopting one as the official state nickname. For many years, Montana was called The Treasure State, a name which appeared on a promotional booklet put out by the Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry due to the state being the country’s foremost producer of gold, silver, and copper. However, in 1961 Jack Hallowell, director of the Montana State Advertising Department, met Montana’s premier author of historical fiction, A. B. “Bud” Guthrie. Hallowell casually asked if the state advertising department could use the title of Guthrie’s class novel about the American fur trade, Big Sky, to promote tourism. Guthrie agreed. In fact, it was Guthrie’s father who had said of his first day in Montana, “standing under the big sky I feel free.” Source: Montana: The Magazine of Western History

Nebraska – The Cornhusker State. Formerly designated the Tree Planters’ State, the Nebraska Legislature officially changed the state nickname in 1945 to the “Cornhusker State.” The names derives from the nickname for the University of Nebraska’s team, the Cornhuskers. The term Cornhusker refers to the method of harvesting corn by hand, which was common before the invention of husking machinery. Source: Nebraska Legislature

Nevada – The Silver State. Accordingly to the Nevada Legislature, this state has three nicknames: Battle-Born State, Sagebrush State, and Silver State. Battle-born comes from Nevada becoming a state during the Civil War in 1864. As for Sagebrush State, sagebrush is a common plant and the state flower. But if we use the license plate test, Nevada is the Silver State, thus named because has long been a well-known producer of the metal silver and silver has played an important part in the state’s history. Source: Nevada Legislature, Nevada State Library and Archives

New Hampshire – The Granite State. If you look at New Hampshire’s license plates, you’ll see the motto “Live Free or Die,” a statement written by General John Stark, hero of the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution. Thus, it’s a little surprising to see that the state nickname refers to the state’s geography instead. New Hampshire is the Granite State because it has extensive granite formations and quarries. Source: New Hampshire Almanac

New Jersey – The Garden State. In 1954 New Jersey officially became the Garden State. The bill to adopt this nickname passed over the veto of Governor Robert B. Meyner, who stated in a letter to the legislature: “Statistically, only 2.4 percent of our workers are     employed on farms while 97.6 percent are engaged in non-agricultural occupations . . . I do not believe that the average citizen of New Jersey regards his state as more peculiarly identifiable with gardening or farming than any of its other industries or occupations.” The name is attributed to Abraham Browning, a resident of Camden, who presumably called New Jersey the Garden State way back in 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The nickname stuck. Source: State of New Jersey

New Mexico – The Land of Enchantment. Journalist and author Lilian Whiting wrote a book titled, The Land of Enchantment: From Pike’s Peak to the Pacific (1906), which covered New Mexico, as well as Colorado, Arizona, and California.  In 1935 the Department of Tourism used the phrase “Land of Enchantment” in a brochure. In 1941 the phrase was added to license plates. However, this nickname was not officially adopted until 1999. Source: New Mexico Office of the State Historian

Federal Hall–where Washington was inaugurated

New York – The Empire State. While it seems an appropriate nickname now, given the city’s prominence in our country with its tall skyscrapers and resources, the state’s nickname likely originated way back in 1784. George Washington referred to the state as “at present the seat of the Empire.” The City of New York was one of a few cities used by the Continental Congress to convene and was the place in which Washington was inaugurated. Source: New York History Net

North Carolina – The Tar Heel State. While there are a couple of other possibilities for the origin of “tar heel,” let’s go with the most widely accepted one. When North Carolina was an English colony, it was the chief exporter of tar to the British kingdom, sending over 100,000 barrels annually. Tar was made from long leaf pine trees and used to seal wooden hulls and protect ropes on ships.

In the Civil War, a group of North Carolinian soldiers continued to fight after a Virginia column retreated. The Virginians taunted them by asking, “Any more tar down in the old North State, boys?” The North Carolinians answered, “Old Jeff’s bought it all up.” (Jeff=Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.) When the Virginians asked what for, the North Carolinians responded, “He is going to put it on you’ns heels to make you stick better in the next fight.” General Robert E. Lee heard of the exchange and declared of the North Carolina soldiers, “God bless the Tar Heel boys!” Source: North Carolina Museum of History

North Dakota – The Peace Garden State. The International Peace Garden is a 2,339-acre botanical garden that rests in the world’s longest unfortified border between Manitoba and North Dakota. It is a symbol of friendship and peace between the United States and Canada. In 1956, on its own initiative, the state’s motor vehicle department placed the words Peace Garden State on license plates. The nickname was formally adopted by the legislature in 1957. Source: North Dakota State Government; International Peace Garden

So there you have the next 17! You can find the first 17 states HERE, and I will be back in two weeks with the remaining 16: from Ohio to Wyoming.

Note: I chose to use first sources. That is, all of my information came from the states themselves rather than any secondary source. Thus, I listed my sources above.

15 thoughts on “State Nicknames, Part 2

  1. Wow, Julie! Can’t imagine how much time you spent researching this. Great job:) I didn’t realize MN’s official state slogan wasn’t Land of the 10,000 Lakes. All great stories, but the Tar Heel Boys has to be my favorite.

  2. I loved this, Julie. A good majority of them surprised the heck out of me as to where the name came from. I especially liked North Dakota as the Peace Garden State and North Carolina’s reference to tar? Some were sort of off-the-wall, though understandable.
    Thank you.

  3. Like the Stacy, I love the Tar Heel story best of all. But I also like Magnolia State because that’s my favorite tree. I also like Garden State for New Jersey because I loved the movie of the same name with Zach Braff. But I also like Garden State because it reminds me of Bruce Springsteen and all the scenes in my life when his music has been playing in the background. Poignant memories.

  4. Another cool post Julie! I’ve lived in 3 of those states and I’ve been to all but 3 (that sort of sounds like a riddle to me ha ha), but a lot of those nicknames don’t sound familiar! Thanks for the education 🙂

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