Some nicknames are pretty straight forward. For example, we can all figure out why Florida is called The Sunshine State or why Arizona is known as The Great Canyon State. But other nicknames aren’t quite as obvious. For example, did you know that Oregon’s nickname, The Beaver State, has nothing to do with the animal?
So, how well do you know your state? Reading this list might make you realize there’s a lot you don’t know about the place you call home. From names brought up sometime in the 18th century to names that began as a form of mockery, here are the stories behind the 50 states’ famous nicknames.
Alabama – The Yellowhammer State
Alabama is also known as The Heart of Dixie and The Cotton State but is mostly referred to as The Yellowhammer. Its nickname dates back to the Civil War when soldiers from Alabama wore uniforms trimmed with yellow on their sleeves, collars, and coattails.
Their outfits resembled the Yellowhammer bird, which has bright yellow feathers underneath its wings and tail. The troops were referred to as “Allerbammer Yallerhammers,” and, ever since the war, the nickname has stuck.
Alaska – The Last Frontier
Alaska is the faraway land of many uninhabited spaces, beautiful landscapes, and a sun that shines at midnight. Explorers from the end of the 19th century referred to it as The Last Frontier because of its distance from the lower states.
Alaska has a couple of other nicknames, like The Land of the Midnight Sun, The Great Land, Seward’s Ice Box (named after William H. Seward, the man who convinced Congress to purchase Alaska), and The State of Grizzly Bears and Salmon Fishes.
Arizona – The Grand Canyon State
It’s pretty obvious why Arizona earned its nickname. Most of the wondrous Grand Canyon lies in the northern part of the state. Arizona has proudly adopted the natural wonder and nicknamed itself after it. So how did the Grand Canyon form?
The exposed rock was formed six million years ago after water from the Colorado river rose and carved a path down through the plateau. Today, the Grand Canyon National Park attracts around five million visitors a year!
Arkansas – The Natural State
In the early 20th century, Arkansas was named The Wonder State and The Land of Opportunity. But in 1955, it officially adopted the nickname The Natural State, as an ode to its beautiful natural scenery. Arkansas has three national forests, five national parks, and 52 state parks. Yup, quite a lot of beauty.
With clear lakes, delicate streams, and an abundance of wildlife, Arkansas has a lot to be proud of. The Buffalo Natural River is one of its main attractions and draws almost 2 million visitors each year.
California – The Golden State
When gold was first discovered in California, it was named The Eldorado State, Spanish for The Golden One. Today, it’s known as The Golden State, and not only because it’s synonymous with gold mining but also because of the gorgeous, yellow poppies that appear when spring comes around.
The Golden State’s official motto is “Eureka!” which means “We found it!” in Greek. The excited motto refers to the discovery of gold in the state. Some residents preferred “In God We Trust.” but in the end, Eureka won.
Colorado: The Centennial State
Colorado earned its nickname because it joined the Union and became the 38th state in 1876, 100 years after the Declaration of Independence. As for the state’s name, some Spanish speakers disagree on this, but the word Colorado can be split into color and rado (in Spanish, rojo is red).
In other words, Colorado = colored red. The name is inspired by the beautiful shades of red that cover the three peaks of the San Juan Mountains of West Colorado.
Connecticut: The Constitution State
Connecticut was named The Constitution State in 1959 because of its early adoption of the Fundamental Orders in 1639, which are believed to be the first written constitution in history. Connecticut’s unofficial nickname is The Nutmeg State.
It’s an unusual name, considering the state doesn’t grow any nutmeg. But residents are still called Nutmeggers. Why? It’s a bit of a mystery, but the general agreement is that it has to do with overseas business. Ships from all over the world packed with spices arrived first in Connecticut, granting it its spicy nickname.
Delaware – The First State
Delaware is said to be the first state of the 13 colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787. It officially adopted The First State as its nickname in 2002, following an adorable request by Mrs. Anabelle O’Malley’s first-grade class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington.
Other nicknames include The Diamond State because Thomas Jefferson described Delaware as a jewel due to its strategic location. Another nickname is Small Wonder because of its small size yet incredible contribution.
Florida – The Sunshine State
Florida rightfully earned its nickname because of its radiant climate with an average of 230 days of sunshine a year! It’s been called The Sunshine State since 1970 and has become one of the most popular beach destinations in America.
In 2002, the nickname turned into an American drama set in Amelia Island, Florida. The film Sunshine State revolves around two women going through crucial moments in their lives. The film shows the beautiful sandy beaches of Fernandina Beach.
Georgia – The Peach State
Georgia’s nickname is a reminder of the plump and yummy fruit that grows in abundance throughout the state. The state is full of Peachtree Streets (71) and one massive skyscraper called the Peachtree Tower. Even though Georgia isn’t the country’s leading producer of peaches (California is), its nickname remains.
The state got its name from King George II. He was king of Britain when Europeans first settled in the land in 1733. Georgia is also called The Empire State of the South and The Goober State, because of all of its yummy peanut farms!
Hawaii – The Aloha State
Hawaii is also known as The Pineapple State, or The Youngest State (because it was the last to join) but is most commonly referred to as The Aloha State. The word aloha means hello and goodbye and has such a nice sound that you kind of want to add it to every sentence.
Hawaii is among the happiest states in America. This probably has to do with their laid-back lifestyle, beautiful beaches, and the amount of time they spend outdoors.
Idaho – The Gem State
The word Idaho was believed to be a Native American word that meant “gem of the mountains.” But it turns out that claim was false. Still, the name stuck, and the territory was named that way due to the land’s precious resources, including gold, silver, and different gemstones.
The state is also known as Gem of the Mountains and Little Ida. The Gem State is famous for its white pine trees, potatoes, and Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America! Its also known for its impressive Shoshone Falls.
Illinois – The Prairie State
Illinois is widely known as The Prairie State because of the vast amounts of grassy land. But residents feel that the nickname doesn’t really tap into what’s unique about the state. Other places like Nebraska and Kansas also have expansive grassy landscapes, so calling Illinois The Prairie State isn’t saying much.
Critics prefer to call the state The Land of Lincoln, because this is where Abraham Lincoln began his political career. The nickname appears on “Welcome to Illinois” signs along interstate highways. Illinois is also known as The Corn State because of the plant’s important role in the state’s economy.
Indiana – The Hoosier State
This nickname came about in the 1930s and was inspired by John Finley’s poem The Hoosier’s Nest. The song was published in The Indianapolis Journal in 1833, and afterwards it became used in fancy dinner toasts: “To The Hoosier State of Indiana!”
But that’s just one origin theory. Another one has to do with how we usually respond when someone knocks on our door – “who’s there?” It slowly turned into “Who’s yere?” to “husher” and finally, “Hoosier.”
Iowa: The Hawkeye State
This nickname is based on the scout, Hawkeye, from the popular novel The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826. It’s believed that two men from Burlington took part in popularizing the name, and it was approved eight years before the state was officially established.
The state is also known as The Corn State, as a tribute to Iowa’s corn farmlands, and The Land of the Rolling Prairie because of the expansive prairies that cover the state.
Kansas: The Sunflower State
Its nickname is a reminder of the native wild sunflowers that grow around the state. The sunflower is Kansas’ official flower, and it appears on the state flag as well. Kansas is also known as The Wheat State because it ranked number one in wheat production in 2000.
Other nicknames include The Central State and Midway USA because of its location, and Grasshopper State because of the 1874 grasshopper plague when Rocky Mountain Locusts swarmed the land in the scorching hot month of July.
Kentucky: The Bluegrass State
Although Kentucky’s grass isn’t blue, the state got its nickname after settlers arrived and discovered fields of tall grass with purple buds that added a bluish tint to the overall landscape. Bluegrass has since then become an iconic term in the state.
It was declared Kentucky’s official music genre and was tagged as other state symbols. More Kentucky nicknames include The Hemp State and The Tobacco State (both notable crops and ones that contribute to the state’s economy).
Louisiana: The Pelican State
The nickname derives from the abundance of brown pelicans across the state. The bird is on the state flag and has been the symbol of the area ever since the first European settlers arrived. This bird impressed the newcomers with its nurturing character and generous attitude toward their young.
Louisiana is also called The Sugar State for its many sugar cane crops and Sportsman’s Paradise for all the hunting, fishing, horse racing, and other outdoor activities popular in the state.
Maine – The Pine Tree State
Maine rightfully earned its nickname because of the many beautiful pine trees that grow in the state. A pine tree is featured on Maine’s flag and seal and the white pine is considered the state’s official tree. The white pinecone is the state flower.
The state has 17 million acres of forests, so trees play a huge role in its cultural identity. Other nicknames include The Polar Star State (because of its northern position on the map), The Old Dirigo State (a reference to Maine’s motto “dirigo” which is Spanish for “I guide”) and The Border State (because of its border with Canada)
Maryland – The Old Line State
The nickname is a reference to soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War in the Maryland line. People claim that General George Washington called these soldiers “soldiers of the line,” and they were considered some of the most disciplined and courageous troops out there.
Maryland is also known as The Oyster State because of all the oyster fisheries in the area, and The Queen State because the state was named after King Charles’ wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.
Massachusetts – The Bay State
Massachusetts was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony until they joined the Union in 1788 and “bay” was dropped from the name. But it remained the state’s nickname due to its five bays: Massachusetts Bay, Quincy Bay, Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod Bay.
Massachusetts is also known as The Baked Bean State, because of its famous, traditional brown bread and baked beans, and The Puritan State, because of the Puritan immigrants who arrived in Massachusetts looking for a peaceful place to practice their religion.
Michigan: The Great Lakes State
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, Michigan is the place to go. It has four of the five Great Lakes – Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. The state also has 11,000 inland lakes! Michigan is also called The Wolverine State because of the many wolverines that once roamed the land.
But that’s only a theory. Some people claim that wolverines were never present in Michigan at all. So how did the nickname come about? A dispute between Ohioans and Michiganians in the Toledo War. Ohioans called their rivals “vicious and bloodthirsty like wolverines.”
Minnesota: The North Star State
The state’s motto is “L’étoile du nord,” which is French for the North Star and it became one of Minnesota’s nicknames. But it’s also known as The Land of 10,000 Lakes, because of its many beautiful blue lakes.
There are actually a lot more lakes in the state. There are around 11,842, and if your definition of lake includes smaller pools of water, then you have about 15,000 lakes in total. Minnesota is also known as The Bread-and-Butter State for its delicious wheat and dairy products.
Mississippi: The Magnolia State
The beautiful magnolia was voted the state’s favorite flower twice (in 1900 and 1935). The fragrant tree has now become synonymous with Mississippi and has become the state’s official nickname. The Magnolia State appears on the 50 States’ commemorative quarter of 2002.
Mississippi’s other nickname, The Eagle State, came from the Mississippi Coat of Arms that has a bald eagle holding an olive branch. The state is also known as The Mud-Cat State because of the large catfishes swimming in Mississippi’s swamps and lakes.
Missouri: The Show-Me State
The nickname originated sometime in the late 19th century, when Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said, “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
The nickname has stuck ever since, and this form of stubbornness also characterizes the state’s people. Missouri is also known as The Cave State due to the thousands of caves in the state (over 5,600!). Each year, more and more caves are being discovered.
Montana: The Treasure State
Montana’s mineral resources earned it its flashy nickname. The state’s motto is “Oro y Plata,” which is Spanish for “Gold and Silver,” two of the gems that gave rise to its nickname. Montana is also known as The Bonanza State, which refers to its many “bonanza” mines.
Another way to refer to Montana is The Big Sky Country because of the skyline in the state that overwhelms the landscape. You can also call it The Land of Shining Mountains because of, well, it’s incredibly impressive, shiny mountains.
Nebraska: The Cornhusker State
Nebraska was once called The Tree Planters State, as a reference to the millions of trees planted in the area by settlers. In 1945, the name was replaced with The Cornhusker State, to honor the University of Nebraska football team, the Cornhuskers.
The state is also known as The Beef State because of its successful beef industry. Other names include The Bug-Eating State (because of the bug-eating bats in the area) and The Blackwater State because of its black soil that darkens the streams.
Nevada: The Battle Born State
The nickname is a reminder that Nevada joined the Union in 1864, during the Civil War. The Battle Born State is also Nevada’s official slogan and appears on the Nevada State flag. Another nickname is The Silver State because of Nevada’s silver mine industry.
Additional names include The Sagebrush State because of the wild sagebrush, which is found all over the state. It’s also Nevada’s official flower, and they make sure to flaunt it on their state flag.
New Hampshire: The Granite State
New Hampshire’s nickname refers to its official state rock, granite, and its granite quarrying industry. Other nicknames include The Mother of Rivers because of the New England Rivers that originate in the state’s mountains. Other beautiful rivers that cross the state are – the Connecticut River, the Merrimack River, and the Saco River.
You can also call the state The White Mountain State and The Switzerland of America. Both names refer to New Hampshire’s gorgeous White Mountains and beautiful, majestic alpine scenery.
New Jersey: The Garden State
New Jersey’s nickname came from a speech by Abraham Browning in 1876. He coined it The Garden State, comparing it to a barrel full of good things to eat, and one that is open at both ends, allowing Pennsylvania and New York to snatch valuable resources.
Other ways to call New Jersey include The Jersey Blue State because of the blue uniforms of the state’s Revolutionary War soldiers, and New Spain, because of a visit by the King of Spain in 1812. He bought about 1,400 acres of land. Rumor has it that Philadelphians were jealous of New Jersey for having such a royal visitor in their land and mocked the state as the “New Spain.”
New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment
What a great nickname! New Mexico really lives up to its nickname. With mesmerizing landscapes and magical views, The Land of Enchantment is a perfect fit for the state. It became New Mexico’s official nickname in 1999.
Other names include The Cactus State, for the many cacti growing in the area, and The Land of Sunshine, which is one of the state’s oldest nicknames. It has been found on state license plates since before 1941.
New York: The Empire State
New York’s nickname can be traced back to the Revolutionary War, when the New York Common Council praised the state’s resilience, describing it as the “Seat of the Empire.” The nickname inspired many important buildings and streets, including the famous Empire State Building.
New York is also known as The Big Apple. It was first called that by writer John Fitzgerald in 1920. He always opened his horse racing column “Around the Big Apple” with the sentence “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heel State
In the state’s early years, tar was one of its major products. “Tar Heel” became a slang term that meant that the person was from the working class. North Carolinians reclaimed the term and turned it into a source of pride.
The state is also called The Land of the Sky because of an 1876 book by Frances Fisher Teiran set in the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. Another name is The Old North State, referring to the northern section of Carolina after it was divided in 1710.
North Dakota: The Peace Garden State
The Peace Garden State refers to the International Peace Garden on the state’s border with Canada. The nickname first appeared in 1956, when the North Dakota Motor Vehicle Department stamped “Peace Garden State” on license plates. People loved it so much that North Dakota officially adopted it as its nickname.
Other nicknames include The Flickertail State because of the Richardson Ground Squirrel popular in the area, which flicks its tail while running. North Dakota’s official state march is called the Flickertail March.
Ohio: The Buckeye State
The state’s nickname comes from the Ohio Buckeye trees. Ohioans started calling themselves Buckeyes in 1840 when President William Henry Harrison ran for president. His supporters carved campaign souvenirs out of the tree’s wood to cheer him on.
The Buckeye was named Ohio’s official tree in 1953. Another state nickname is The Mother of Modern Presidents because seven U.S. presidents were born there. Even though Harrison was born in Virginia, he was raised in Ohio and is considered one of their own.
Oklahoma: The Sooner State
The term “Sooners” dates back to 1889. Sooners were known as the people who snuck into Oklahoma before it was opened to settlers. The term symbolized an “energetic, can-do spirit” and was eventually embraced as the state’s nickname.
In 1908, the University of Oklahoma named its football team The Sooners. As for the name of the state itself, Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw words, “ukla” meaning person and “huma” meaning red. In other words, Red Person.
Oregon: The Beaver State
The beaver is Oregon’s official state animal, the state university’s mascot, and is also displayed on the state’s flag. Beavers are intelligent animals, admired because of how important they are to the natural water flow. They’re basically “nature’s engineer.”
Other state nicknames include The Sunset State because of its far west location and the Land of Hard Cases because of the hardships that settlers had to endure.
Pennsylvania: The Keystone State
A keystone is a valuable piece at the apex of an arch that helps lock all other pieces in place. Referring to Pennsylvania as such is a way to emphasize its contribution and the help it provided its neighboring states.
Geographically, the state is located in the middle of the 13 original states. Politically, Pennsylvania has played a crucial part in the development of the early United States. The word Pennsylvania means “Penn’s Woods.”
Rhode Island: The Ocean State
Rhode Island’s nickname is the state’s way to promote its beautiful, sandy beaches. Ocean State began appearing on license plates in 1972. Before that, the state’s plates had “Discover” on them. Another nickname for the island is Little Rhody.
The state’s name was first coined by Dutch explorer Adrian Block. Upon seeing the red clay that lined the shore, he called the island “Roodt Eylandt,” which translates to Red Island. When the British arrived, they anglicized the name.
South Carolina: The Palmetto State
South Carolina’s nickname comes from the sabal palmetto tree, the state’s tree which appears on its flag and seal. The tree holds a lot of historical significance. In the revolutionary war, a fort made out of palmetto-log on Sullivan’s island remained intact after a British assault on Charleston Harbor. It earned the colonists a huge victory.
South Carolina is also known as The Rice State, The Swamp State, and Keystone of the South Atlantic Seaboard because of the state’s wedge shape.
South Dakota: The Mount Rushmore State
Mount Rushmore is probably the first thing you think of when you hear South Dakota. The impressive monument to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln is the state’s most famous landmark.
Other nicknames include The Sunshine State, because of the amount of sunshine that pours over the state, and The Coyote State, because of the large coyote population in the area. South Dakota can also be referred to as The Land of Plenty.
Tennessee: The Volunteer State
The nickname is a tribute to the state’s volunteer soldiers. During the Mexican American War, the government called for people to help fight, and more than 30,000 Tennessean soldiers volunteered. Impressive right?
The state is also named The Big Bend State because Indians used to call the Tennessee river “the river with the big bend.” Another name is The Hog and Hominy State because of the state’s major pork and corn production.
Texas: The Lone Star State
By 1839, Texas’ flag had a lone star on it. It was created after Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the flag’s colors represent bravery, purity, and loyalty.
Other nicknames include The Blizzard State because of its frequent windstorms and The Beef State because of the state’s cattle ranching and beef production. As for the name of the state? Texas comes from the word “teysha,” meaning “hello friend” in the language of the Caddo Indian tribes.
Utah: The Beehive State
Surprisingly, Utah’s nickname has nothing to do with bees. It’s inspired by the religious reference of “land of milk and honey,” which symbolizes “the promised land” in the Bible. The state’s first settlers were Mormon and decided to call their land after that.
Utah is also called The Mormon State, Land of the Mormons, The Land of Saints, and The Salt Lake State. Utah comes from the Navajo Indian word “Yutttahih,” which means “the one that is higher up.”
Vermont: The Green Mountain State
Vermont’s nickname refers to the mountains which have granted the state its name: the Verd Mont. The name was coined by the first French settlers in the early 1600s and translates into “Green Mountain.” The British eventually took over after the French and Indian War, and Vermont joined the Union in 1790.
As of today, the nickname is displayed on state license plates. Vermont is known not only for its impressive mountains but also for its maple syrup, maple sugar, and incredible skiing!
Virginia: The Old Dominion State
Virginia was the first overseas dominion of the English rulers at the time. And its nickname comes from the Latin phrase, “En Dat Virginia Quintam,” referring to Virginia as being within the English Crown’s domain.
Virginia is also called the mother of many things, such as The Mother of Presidents because a lot of Presidents were native Virginians; The Mother of States, because she was the first to be settled; and The Mother of Statesmen because many statesmen came from Virginia.
Washington: The Evergreen State
The person responsible for this nickname is Seattle realtor C.T. Conver. It was given because of the state’s large pine trees and the lush greenery. The realtor fell in love with Washington’s “abundant evergreen forests” and decided to refer to her that way.
Other nicknames include The Green Tree State (for similar reasons) and The Chinook State, a reference to the State’s Chinook Indians. Washington is full of natural beauty and is definitely a place worth visiting.
West Virginia: The Mountain State
After its split from Virginia, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union. It sits completely within the Appalachian Mountains. The state’s motto makes it clear how much West Virginians are proud of their mountainous terrain:
“Montani Semper Liberi,” which translates into “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” West Virginia is also known as the Switzerland of America and The Panhandle State because of its distinct shape, with two panhandles extending to the east and north.
Wisconsin: America’s Dairyland or The Badger State
Wisconsin is known as The Badger State, but not after the animal. The name originally referred to the miners of the 1830s who dug tunnels and lived in temporary caves that were referred to as badger caves.
But many view Wisconsin as America’s Dairyland because of its prolific dairy businesses. The state is famous for its cheese and butter. Because of that, Wisconsin is also called The Cheese State or The Dairy State.
Wyoming: The Equality State
Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote in 1869! Wyoming is also the first state that allowed women to serve on juries and hold public office. “Equality” is also the state motto. Before this nickname, Wyoming was called The Suffrage State.
Wyoming is also called The Sagebrush State, The Cowboy State (because a cowboy on a bucking horse is the state’s symbol), and Big Wyoming because of its size. Wyoming is the 10th largest state by area.