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.

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.