State Nicknames, Part 3

Here’s the third and final post on State Nicknames. In Part 1, I explained the nickname origins of the first 17 of our 50 United States–from Alabama to Kentucky. In Part 2, we covered the next 17–from Louisiana to North Dakota. On today’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s tackle the rest of them–from Ohio to Wyoming.

Ohio – The Buckeye State. According to my mother (a native Ohioan), “the buckeye is a tree, although its fruit (a large nut) is also called a buckeye.” The Ohio Legislature named the buckeye, or Aesculus glabra, as the state’s official tree in 1953. The nuts of the tree resemble the shape and color of a buck deer’s eye and were referred to as buckeyes by Native Americans. Sources: My smart mom; Ohio History Central; Ohio Governor’s Residence

Oklahoma – The Sooner State. In 1889, the unassigned lands of the Oklahoma District were opened up for settlers’ claims. However, anyone who showed up early–before the president’s opening proclamation–was to be denied any right to the land. In response, plenty of people “hid out in brush or ravines, then suddenly appeared to stake a claim after the run started, giving them clear advantage over law-abiding settlers who made the run from the borders.” These settlers were called Sooners, having arrived too soon. While the nickname “sooner” has a negative connotation here, that perspective changed when the University of Oklahoma chose Sooners as the name of their football team in 1908. Oklahomans now wear the unofficial title “Sooner State” with pride. Sources: Oklahoma Historical Society; Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture

Oregon – The Beaver State.  In early settler years, beavers in this area were overtrapped and used for their fur. Current laws protect the American Beaver in Oregon, and in 1969 the legislature designated this beaver as the state animal. Oregon State University also chose the beaver as its mascot. However, I found no evidence that this nickname has been officially adopted by the state legislature. Sources: Oregon Blue Book – Almanac; Oregon Blue Book – State Symbols: Animal;

Pennsylvania – The Keystone State. “Keystone” is an architectural term referring to “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.” President Jefferson had a victory rally in 1802 in which Pennsylvania was toasted as “the keystone in the federal union.” One year later in 1803, the Aurora newspaper referred to Pennsylvania as “the keystone in the democratic arch.” Indeed, Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies and was the city where the Declaration of Independence was filed. Sources: Merriam-Webster, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, National Archives – The Charters of Freedom

Rhode Island – Ocean State. The nickname “Ocean State” was officially adopted in 1971. Rhode Island has 400+ miles of shoreline, despite being only 48 miles long from north to south and 37 miles wide from east to west. Sources: Rhode Island Government State Symbols, Rhode Island Secretary of State, Rhode Island State House Online Tour

South Carolina – The Palmetto State. The blue palmetto is the state’s tree. But the importance of the palmetto tree in South Carolinian history dates back to the American Revolution, when American troops heroically defended the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against an attack by the British fleet in 1776. Sources: South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, South Carolina State House Student Connection,

South Dakota – Mount Rushmore State. South Dakota was originally known as the “Sunshine State,” but in 1992 the nickname was changed to Mount Rushmore State. Of course, Mount Rushmore is the famous national monument of four presidents’ faces carved into the Black Hills rock. The project was completed between 1927 and 1941 under the supervision of sculptors Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln. The four U.S. presidents on the monument are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Sources: South Dakota Department of Tourism, South Dakota State Historical Society

Tennessee – The Volunteer State. While this does not appear to be an officially adopted nickname, Tennessee is often referred to as the Volunteer State. This is a reference to Tennesseeans willingness to volunteer for military service. In the American Revolution, 2,000 men took up arms to fight for freedom. In subsequent Indian-American Wars and the war with Mexico, Tennessee boys filled the ranks as well. Apparently, the Tennessee quota was always made. Thus it is now known as the Volunteer State. Sources: Tennessee Blue Book, Tennessee History for Kids

Texas – The Lone Star State. And we finally come to my home state. The Lone Star is from our state flag, a design by Peter Krag approved in 1839–three years after Texas won independence from Mexico and became its own country. In a Frontier Times issue in 1948, author Adina de Zavala suggested that each point of the star represents a characteristic of a good citizen: fortitude, loyalty, righteousness, prudence, and broadmindedness. It seems that friendliness and bravado should have made that list. I don’t believe the nickname has been officially adopted, but no matter: It’s called the Lone Star State and a brief attempt some years back to put “Friendship State” on our license plates was met with Texas-size indignation. Sources: Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas State Historical Association Almanac

Utah – The Beehive State. Utah settler and first governor Brigham Young wanted to name the area the State of Deseret back in the 19th century, “deseret” meaning “honeybee” (Book of Mormon, Ether 2:3:  “And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee, and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees…”). The bee carried the suggestion of industry and cooperative labor which Young and the Mormons of the state desired. However, the United States legislature did not approve the name “Deseret” and instead chose “Utah” when the state joined the union in 1896. Yet the beehive was adopted as the state’s official emblem in 1959 and appears on the state flag and seal to this day. Sources: Pioneer-Utah’s Online Library,

Vermont – The Green Mountain State. The Green Mountain range runs all the way through the middle of Vermont. In fact, the state’s name itself means “green mountain” (Ver, from the French word for green, vert; and -mont from mountain). Sources: Vermont Secretary of State

Virginia – The Old Dominion. Virginia is England’s oldest colony in the Americas. In 1660, Charles II acknowledged a gift of silk from “our auntient dominion of Virginia.” In 1663 Virginia was recognized as the fifth of the king’s dominions–the others being England, Scotland, France and Ireland. And in 1699, the words “most Ancient Colloney and Dominion” appeared in official state documents. In 1954 the general assembly adopted the official salute to the Virginia flag as follows: “I salute the flag of Virginia, with reverence and patriotic devotion to the ‘mother of States and Statesmen,’ which it represents–the ‘Old Dominion,’ where liberty and independence were born.” Sources: Library of Virginia, Virginia General Assembly

Washington – The Evergreen State. C.T. Conover, a Seattle pioneer, realtor, and historian chose “The Evergreen State” as the nickname due to the abundance of evergreen forests in Washington. It was officially adopted in 1893, a mere 3+ years after Washington became a state. Sources: Washington Legislature, A Student Guide to the Washington Legislature

West Virginia – The Mountain State. The state seal and flag both contain the Latin phrase “Montani Semper Liberi“–meaning “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” West Virginia is a mountainous state located in the Appalachian Highlands. It has more than 40 peaks that reach 4000+ feet above sea level. Thus, the residents of West Virginia are mountaineers, and their state is the Mountain State. Sources: The West Virginia Web, West Virginia Department of Commerce, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Wisconsin – The Badger State. An effort to officially adopt this nickname failed in 1996; however, Wisconsin is still called the Badger State. The name “badger” was first applied to lead miners around 1830 who kept themselves so busy digging for “gray gold” that they failed to build houses. Instead, like badgers, they used abandoned mine shafts and makeshift burrows for shelter. Although originally derogatory, the term “badger” came to describe the hardworking settlers of the Wisconsin Territory. The badger is now the state’s official animal, appears on the state’s coat of arms and flag, and is the mascot for the University of Wisconsin. Sources: State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin State Symbols

Wyoming – The Cowboy State. Wyoming is sometimes referred to as The Equality State, due to its great seal which includes the words “equal rights.” Such equal rights refers to women having the right to vote from 1869, twenty-one years before Wyoming became a state. However, Wyoming today is more likely known as the Cowboy State. The state’s official sport is the rodeo, and the state license plate has featured a cowboy on a bucking horse since 1936. That seems appropriate since the one person I can think of who grew up in Wyoming used to ride bulls. Sources: State of Wyoming

Okay, that’s it! Which is your favorite from today’s state nicknames? Did I cover your state here? Were there any surprises?

Notes: All of my information came from the states themselves rather than any secondary source. Yes, I know there are no pictures. Romance Author Roni Loren’s blog photos experience has become a lesson for us all. If you haven’t read about it, click HERE.

19 thoughts on “State Nicknames, Part 3

    1. Thanks, Jolyse. I could have easily included a little thumbs-up for the states whose sites made research easy, and a thumbs-down for those who hid that information like a top secret CIA file. LOL.

  1. I love learning about the state’s nicknames! I’m a nerd about state and city facts. My family likes to look up stats and information on road trips, so they’ll love hearing these. 🙂

  2. This is so informative, Julie. I thought of how one could pick a state to visit based on some of these descriptions. I loved the Rhode Island one because I’m fond of beaches and had absolutely no idea it had so much shoreline, given how small it is. I lived in Corvallis, Oregon, for two years and we were “the beavers” at OSU, but I never once saw one!

    1. What a great way to look at it, Patti! I also have a yearning to visit some of these states based on their names–like Big Sky Montana, Last Frontier Alaska, and Green Mountain Vermont. I still laugh about when I lived in New Mexico–which is officially the Land of Enchantment but, with the dry roads and constant construction, was often called by residents “The Orange Barrel State.”

  3. How fun! I’ll have to go back and read the other two parts. My salute to the Lone Star State (my home state) and to Old Dominion (where I live now). Little fact: I actually use the name ‘Dominion’ to name most of the fictional places/institutions in my book, much like Virginia does 🙂

  4. This has been so interesting.

    I love Lone Star. I used to put that as my location when I registered for online social media sites. It’s catchy. Know what I mean?

    My favorite for today was The Volunteer State. I knew this was a name associated with the state of Tennesee, but I don’t think I’d ever heard why. I found it sort of touching.

    1. My father claimed that the Apostle Paul was from the State of Texas; otherwise, how could he have possibly said, “I have learned to be content in whatever state I’m in.” Thanks, David!

  5. “…each point of the star represents a characteristic of a good citizen: fortitude, loyalty, righteousness, prudence, and broadmindedness.” I was born, raised and still live in the Lone Star State and didn’t know this. If the nickname hasn’t been officially adopted, it’s high time it was. 🙂 This has been an interesting series, Julie. Thanks!

  6. I had forgotten Wyoming had given women the right to vote so early. this has been a fun and interesting series. Thanks Julie.

  7. Loved this series, Julie. You put a ton of research into this. I think Rhode Island is my favorite because it’s amazing they have so much shoreline. And I had no idea Wyoming allowed women to vote that early.

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