How every state got its nickname

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The United States is a remarkable country because it's an assembly of former colonies, territories and even independent nations that all banded together under one government. Despite joining the Union, each of the 50 states still has its own unique slang terms, traditions, culture, history and must-try foods, which over the years have inspired nicknames for the states.

These colorful nicknames celebrate the states' individual identities. Some have been around for centuries, with their origins lost over time, while others are recent inventions meant to promote each state's iconic qualities. If you've ever wondered what a Tar Heel actually is or why a state not known for agriculture is called the Garden State, here's how every state in the U.S. got its nickname.

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Alabama: The Yellowhammer State

Alabama doesn't have an official nickname, but it got the "Yellowhammer" moniker during the Civil War. A company of Alabama soldiers wore uniforms trimmed with yellow, which earned them comparisons with the yellowhammer bird, which has bright yellow feathers underneath its wings and tail. Also known as a flicker woodpecker, the yellowhammer is the state bird of Alabama.

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Alaska: The Last Frontier

Also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska's official nickname is the Last Frontier. It is the least densely populated of the U.S. states and draws adventurous visitors eager to explore its wild, breathtaking landscapes.

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Arizona: The Grand Canyon State

One of America's world-famous landmarks is the Grand Canyon, located in the northern part of Arizona. The Grand Canyon State is one of its more popular nicknames, though Arizona has no official nickname.

Arkansas: The Natural State

Arkansas officially adopted the nickname the Natural State in 1995 to celebrate the state's stunning natural scenery. Prior to that, Arkansas had two different official nicknames: the Wonder State from 1923 to 1947 and the Land of Opportunity from 1947 to 1995.

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California: The Golden State

 

One of the first nicknames for California was the Eldorado State, inspired by the legendary city of gold. Once gold was discovered there, California became synonymous with gold mining. That's why today its official nickname is the Golden State, a color also found in the fields of wildflowers that bloom there in the spring.

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Colorado: The Centennial State

Colorado is nicknamed the Centennial State because it joined the Union in 1876, 100 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

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Connecticut: The Constitution State

Connecticut's official nickname is the Constitution State, despite the fact that Delaware was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Instead, the state claims to have the first written constitution in U.S. history with the state's founding document, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, written in 1639.

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Delaware: The First State

Delaware doesn't let Connecticut hog the history spotlight, as its nickname references the fact that it was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The nickname was officially adopted in 2002 after being requested by Anabelle O'Malley's first grade class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington.

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Florida: The Sunshine State

The Sunshine State was adopted as Florida's official nickname in 1970. The state has a toasty tropical and subtropical climate and an average 230 days of sunshine a year, making it a popular beach destination.

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Georgia: The Peach State

Georgia's most popular nickname is the Peach State, in reference to its official state fruit and the importance of the produce to the state's agricultural economy. Despite its association with the fruit, Georgia hasn't been the country's leading producer of peaches in decades. That distinction now belongs to California.

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Hawaii: The Aloha State

Sometimes referred to as the Pineapple State for its iconic produce or the Youngest State because it was the last to join the Union, Hawaii's official "popular name" was adopted in 1959, the same year it became a state. Hawaii picked the nickname the Aloha State in reference to the hospitality and culture of native Hawaiians.

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Idaho: The Gem State

Mining lobbyist George M. Willing proposed the made-up name "Idaho" as the name for what is now Colorado, claiming the word was an Indian name that meant "Gem of the Mountains." While Congress went with another name for Colorado after learning the name was nonsense, it came into popular use for towns and landmarks like the newly discovered Idaho Mines. The territory was named Idaho due to its large deposits of gold, silver, gems and minerals.

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Illinois: The Prairie State

While Illinois doesn't have an official state nickname, it does have an official prairie grass and a designated Illinois Prairie Week, living up to its popular nickname of the Prairie State. Illinois is perhaps more famous for its state slogan: "The Land of Lincoln."

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Indiana: The Hoosier State

The Hoosier State is the official nickname of Indiana, and a person from Indiana is known as a Hoosier. There are many theories on the origin of the term but no definite answers, though it can be traced back to the early 1830s.

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Iowa: The Hawkeye State

Iowa was ahead of the curve when it came to a state nickname, adopting one eight years before it even became a state. Two Iowa territory promoters are credited with popularizing the nickname the Hawkeye State based on a character in the popular book "The Last of the Mohicans." Despite having a bird-like name and being the University of Iowa mascot, a Hawkeye isn't a real bird. Iowa's state bird is actually the American goldfinch.

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Kansas: The Sunflower State

The cheerful sunflower is the official state flower of Kansas. It appears on the state flag and crops up in rolling fields of blooming wildflowers through the state. The nickname "the Sunflower State was officially adopted in 1903.

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Kentucky: The Bluegrass State

The most common nickname for Kentucky references its famed tall grass with a blue cast. Though it's actually green, in the spring, bluegrass produces blue buds that make fields of the grass seem blue.

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Louisiana: The Pelican State

Louisiana is so proud of its distinctive brown pelican that it put the bird on the state flag, seal and U.S. mint bicentennial quarter and also officially adopted the nickname the Pelican State.

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Maine: The Pine Tree State

Some of the most majestic pine trees in the country grow in Maine, and this claim to fame has inspired many emblems of Maine. The state nickname is the Pine Tree State,  and a pine tree is featured on Maine's flag, seal and quarter. The white pine is the state tree, and the white pine cone and tassel is the state flower of Maine.

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Maryland: The Old Line State

The exact origins of Maryland's nickname, the Old Line State, have been muddled over the centuries, though one widely accepted story is that the "old line" was a term of affection bestowed by General George Washington to the state's line troops who courageously served in the Revolutionary War.

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Massachusetts: The Bay State

Before it was the Bay State, Massachusetts was officially the Massachusetts Bay Colony until "bay" was dropped from the name in 1788. The state's five bays - Massachusetts Bay, Quincy Bay, Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay - are still its most defining natural features.

Michigan: The Great Lakes State

One of Michigan's popular nicknames is the Great Lakes State, which is featured on its commemorative bicentennial quarter. Michigan touches four of the five Great Lakes, making it a great destination for outdoor adventures. Michigan is also known as the Wolverine State, despite not being home to to this animal. The nickname's origins aren't clear but one legend goes that during the 1835 Toledo War between Michigan and Ohio, Ohioans described people from Michigan as "as vicious and bloodthirsty as wolverines."

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Minnesota: The North Star State

Minnesota's state motto is "L'etoile du nord," which is French for "the North Star." This evolved into one of the state's most popular nicknames, the North Star State. The state also promotes itself as the Land of 10,000 Lakes because of the many, many places to enjoy outdoor water activities

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Mississippi: The Magnolia State

The magnolia has become synonymous with Mississippi, serving as the official state tree and state flower. Though it's an unofficial nickname, "The Magnolia State" appears on Mississippi's commemorative state quarter released in 2002.

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Missouri: The Show-Me State

Missouri's nickname, the Show Me State, is not official, but it's widely used and has a unique origin story. In a 1899 speech, Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said: "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." This became a self-deprecating shorthand for Missouri stubbornness.

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Montana: The Treasure State

Montana's most popular unofficial nickname is the Treasure State because of its rich mineral resources. Montana's state motto - "Oro y Plata," Spanish for "gold and silver" - also references this.

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Nebraska: Cornhusker State

While plenty of state schools get their mascot from the state nickname, Nebraska's situation is the opposite. In 1945, the state adopted the new nickname the Cornhusker State, replacing its previous nickname, the Tree Planters State, in honor of the nickname for the University of Nebraska football team. Corn is one of the state's major crops and was husked by hand by early settlers, earning Nebraskans the moniker "cornhuskers."

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Nevada: The Battle Born State

While many people are familiar with Las Vegas' nickname, Sin City, they might not be familiar with the state of Nevada's official slogan. Nevada is known as the Battle Born State because it acquired statehood in the middle of the country's deadliest conflict. Nevada joined the Union in 1864 during the Civil War. This was a strategic move by the Union as the new state only had one-fifth of the population required for statehood but contributed soldiers, money and vital Congressional support for Abraham Lincoln's anti-slavery amendments to the Constitution.

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New Hampshire: The Granite State

Despite the fact that less than half of New Hampshire's bedrock is actually made of granite, it's earned the nickname the Granite State due to its granite quarrying industry. Granite is the official state rock of New Hampshire.

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New Jersey: The Garden State

Abraham Browning is credited with coining New Jersey's nickname, the Garden State, at the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition in 1876. He described the state as a barrel full of good things but open at both ends, allowing Pennsylvania and New York to reach in and grab resources. The name evolved to refer to the state's floral and agricultural produce.

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New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment

New Mexico officially adopted the nickname the Land of Enchantment in 1999. New Mexico's Tourist Bureau decided on the phrase as a way to bring in tourism in the 1930s and 1940s.

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New York: The Empire State

While there's no clear reason why New York earned the nickname the Empire State, the term has been in popular use since at least the 19th century. This inspired many names of streets and buildings around the state, including the Empire State Building in New York City.

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North Carolina: The Tar Heel State

North Carolina widely became known as the Tar Heel State because the state was a leading producer of tar and pitch for the naval industry in the 19th century. Calling someone a "tar heel" was a derogatory slang term meaning they were poor and working class. North Carolinians reclaimed the term around the Civil War as a point of pride, and it was eventually adopted as the mascot for the University of North Carolina.

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North Dakota: The Peace Garden State

North Dakota's official nickname refers to the International Peace Garden on North Dakota's border with Manitoba, Canada. The state also has other nicknames, including the Roughrider State, a reference to Theodore Roosevelt, who famously spent time there throughout his life.

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Ohio: The Buckeye State

The use of name "Buckeye" to refer to an Ohioan dates back to the 18th century. The people and the prolific plant became synonymous, especially after Ohioan William Henry Harrison ran for president. The nut of this tree was so named because its shape, size and color resemble a the eye of a buck deer.  In 1953, the Buckeye State became Ohio's official nickname. It's also the name of one of the state's iconic treats.

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Oklahoma: The Sooner State

Oklahoma's nickname is the Sooner State. In 1889, people rushed to central Oklahoma, where the U.S. government had made millions of acres of land available to settlers on a first-come, first-served basis. On April 22 of that year at noon, a pistol was fired to signal that people could make a mad dash to claim land - but some people had snuck into the area in advance and hid to be able to claim land "sooner" than the official start time. Previously a disparaging term, the nickname meaning was reversed 1908 when the University of Oklahoma named its football team the Sooners.

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Oregon: The Beaver State

This Pacific Northwest state celebrates the beaver as the official state animal and the mascot for Oregon State University. Demand for beaver pelts is what drove trappers further west in the United States and ultimately led to Oregon joining the Union.

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Pennsylvania: The Keystone State

A keystone, or capstone, is the stone piece at the apex of of an arch or vault. Geographically, Pennsylvania was located in the middle of the original "arch" of 13 colonies. It also played a vital supporting role in the political and economic development of the early United States. The nickname has been in use for over 200 years.

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Rhode Island: The Plantation State

Rhode Island has the only state nickname that's actually a shortening of its original name. The smallest state's full name is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Providence Plantations is simply the name of the first settlements in Rhode Island, though the state is also famous for its historic mansions.

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South Carolina: The Palmetto State

South Carolina gets its state nickname from its state tree, the sabal palmetto, which appears on its flag and seal. Besides being found in the state, the tree has historical significance. During the Revolutionary War, a palmetto-log fort on Sullivan's Island withstood a British assault on Charleston Harbor, earning a big victory for the colonists.

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South Dakota: The Mount Rushmore State

In 1992, South Dakota officially adopted the nickname the Mount Rushmore State in honor of its most famous landmark. It also is home to underrated national parks such as Badlands National Park.

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Tennessee: The Volunteer State

If you've ever wondered why the University of Tennessee's mascot is the Volunteers, it's tied to the state's nickname. Tennessee earned the nickname the Volunteer State during the Mexican-American War when the federal government called for 2,600 people to help fight and more than 30,000 Tennessean soldiers volunteered.

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Texas: The Lone Star State

Texas gets its nickname from the single star on its state flag and on the state seal, which were created when Texas won its independence from Mexico and became its own republic in 1836. Texas kept this design even after joining the Union in 1845.

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Utah: The Beehive State

Utah's state name is the Beehive State, and that's not because it produces a lot of honey or has a large bee population. The state's first Mormon settlers chose this emblem to represent cooperation and hard work and to make a religious reference to the Biblical "land of milk and honey."

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Vermont: The Green Mountain State

The Green Mountains don't just run through Vermont, they indirectly gave the state its name. The name comes from the French "vert mont," meaning "green mountain." The British seized the territory from France in 1763, and Vermont eventually joined the Union as the 14th state in 1790.

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Virginia: Old Dominion

Virginia was the first of the overseas dominions of the kings and queens of England, joining Ireland, Scotland and France under English rule. As a colony, Virginia also stayed loyal to King Charles I and his son Charles II during the English Civil War. The University of Virginia references this in its mascot; supporters of either Charles were known as "Cavaliers."

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Washington: The Evergreen State

Seattle realtor C.T. Conover proposed the simple nickname the Evergreen State for Washington's lush evergreen forests. Though the nickname is widely used, it has never been officially adopted by the state legislature.

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Washington, DC: The DMV

While Washington, D.C., doesn't have an official nickname, the metro area has been given a less-than-flattering nickname by residents: the DMV. Rather than the Department of Motor Vehicles, this stands for D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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West Virginia: The Mountain State

After splitting from Virginia, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union and adopted the simple nickname the Mountain State. West Virginia is spanned by the Appalachian Mountain system, making it one of the best places in the country for outdoor activities.

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Wisconsin: The Badger State

Wisconsin is known as the Badger State, but not because wild badgers are prolific there. In the 1800s, miners dug tunnels into hillsides looking for lead ore and often lived in temporary caves they'd hollowed out, earning them comparisons to burrowing badgers.

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Wyoming: The Equality State

Wyoming's nickname surprisingly doesn't come from its famous parks. Wyoming is known as the Equality State because it's the first state in the country that allowed women to vote, serve on juries and hold public office. The Equality State has natural beauty that is unequaled, making it one life-changing bucket-list travel destination you can't miss.

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