As schoolchildren, many Americans learned the basics of the state they call home — its capital, Senators, state animal and flag. Each state boasts unique symbols based on its history and greatest strengths.
Can you guess your state’s nickname? Some are well-known, with sports teams donning the nickname on the field or court. Others have a more complicated history and come from the early settler days before statehood.
We’re breaking down each state’s nickname and how it came to be.
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Alabama doesn’t have an official state nickname, but residents have adopted a few unofficial ones. Alabama was known as the “Cotton State” starting in the mid-1860s, but as its agriculture diversified some turned to call the state the “Heart of Dixie.” This was printed on license plates beginning in 1955, AL.com reports. Another nickname is the “Yellowhammer State,” as the yellowhammer is Alabama’s official state bird. According to AL.com, it also has roots with Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, some of whom were teased for their cavalry yellow uniforms because they looked like yellowhammer woodpeckers.
The largest state in the United States by area still has unexplored territory, so naturally, Alaska’s state nickname is “The Last Frontier.”
Arizona is home to most of the Grand Canyon, so it makes sense Arizona’s nickname is “The Grand Canyon State.”
Arkansas’ state nickname is “The Natural State,” named for “beautiful mountains, towering forests, scenic rivers and rich farmland” according to documents from the Secretary of State’s office.
California’s nickname is “The Golden State” because of both its long history with the Gold Rush and the presence of golden poppy flowers in the spring.
Because Colorado’s statehood came 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the state’s nickname is “Centennial State.”
Connecticut’s official state nickname is the “Constitution State” because of historical claims that the Fundamental Orders of 1638 and 1639 were the first constitutions ever written. Connecticut is also unofficially known as the “Nutmeg State” because “its early inhabitants had the reputation of being so ingenious and shrewd that they were able to make and sell wooden nutmegs” in place of real ones to trick customers, CT State Library writes.
As the first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Delaware is predictably known as “The First State.”
Florida’s state nickname is “The Sunshine State.” This, along with the state motto “In God We Trust,” appears on Florida’s famed orange and green license plate. Despite the myth that Florida is the sunniest state, National Weather Service data actually points to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas beating out Florida for most sunny days because of Florida’s frequent afternoon thunderstorms.
Georgia is known as “The Peach State,” but not because it’s the biggest peach producer. Georgia’s well-known fruit has roots in slavery and the South’s need to rebrand itself after cotton was widely known as being associated with poverty and slavery, NPR reports. Peaches were seen as “refined and European.”
Hawaii’s official state nickname comes from Hawaiian greeting – the “Aloha State.”
Idaho is known as “the Gem State” because of its abundance of gems and minerals. The name Idaho itself is thought to have been a Native American word meaning “gem of the mountains,” but it has since been discovered that white settlers made up the word.
Illinois is nicknamed “the Prairie State,” a name given by the first settlers when they saw the vast expanses of prairie, Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources says.
Indiana’s state nickname is the “Hoosier State,” as residents of Indiana are called Hoosiers. There’s no direct explanation as to why, but the Indiana Historical Bureau traced general usage to the 1830s, including a poem called “The Hoosier’s Nest.” One theory says settlers asking who was knocking at the door frequently asked “Who’s yere?” Another says the Indiana rivermen were called “hushers” because of their success in brawling. One theory even suggests the name comes from a contractor named Hoosier who preferred to hire men from Indiana.
Iowa is called the “Hawkeye State.” According to the University of Iowa, whose athletic teams are known as the Hawkeyes, the name came from a character in the novel “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper.
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Kansas is known as the “Sunflower State” because of the native wild sunflowers that grow in the state, which are also the official state flower. The state is also known as “Jayhawker State,” a name whose origins may have originated as a name Kansas soldiers adopted for troops along the border at the beginning of the Civil War, Kansas Historical Society writes.
Kentucky’s state nickname is the “Bluegrass State” because of the abundance of the grass in its pastures.
“Pelican State” is Louisiana’s state nickname because of its state bird.
Maine is called the “Pine Tree State” because of its white pine tree population, National Geographic reports. It’s also known as “Vacationland” because of its booming tourism.
Maryland has two state nicknames: “Old Line State” and “Free State.” The first was bestowed by George Washington because of the Maryland troops who served in the Revolutionary War, and the “Free State” nickname began in 1864 after the state abolished slavery.
With Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay along the coastlines, Massachusetts is known as the “Bay State” or “Old Bay State.”
Michigan’s official nickname is the “Wolverine State” because of the significance of wolverine pelt trading in the state.
Minnesota is known as “The Gopher State,” “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and the “North Star State.” The gopher reference came from an 1857 cartoon poking fun at a controversial bill to provide money to build railroads. The second nickname comes from the number of lakes in the state, but there are actually closer to 12,000 lakes in the state. The “North Star State” is a reference to its official motto, which translates from French to “star of the north.”
Named after its state flower, Mississippi’s state nickname is the “Magnolia State.”
Missouri is called the “Show-Me State.” According to the Secretary of State’s office, a possible origin is a quote from Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver when he traveled to Philadelphia: “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.”
Another theory comes from a mining town in Colorado as a term of ridicule applied to imported miners from Missouri. Unfamiliar with Colorado mining, the Coloradans would say: “That man is from Missouri, you’ll have to show him.”
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Montana’s state nickname is “The Treasure State” because of its valuable minerals, gems and precious metals. It’s also known as the “Big Sky Country” after the novel “The Big Sky” by A. B. Guthrie Jr., who was from Montana.
Nebraska’s official nickname is the “Cornhusker State,” which comes from Nebraska athletic teams — the Cornhuskers — also a method of harvesting corn by hand. Before 1945, it was the “Tree Planters’ State” because of the state’s founding of Arbor Day in 1872.
Nevada is known as the “Silver State.” In 1859, a massive deposit of silver was discovered in Nevada, which led to statehood as people traveled to strike rich.
Because of the state’s extensive granite quarries, New Hampshire is most well-known as the “Granite State.” It is also known as “Mother of Rivers,” “White Mountain State” and “Switzerland of America” for the mountain scenery.
New Jersey’s state nickname is the “Garden State” because of a speech given by Abraham Browning in 1876 where he compared New Jersey to a barrel open at both ends with Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers grabbing from either end.
“Land of Enchantment” has been New Mexico’s official nickname since 1999, but its origins date to 1906 in Lillian Whiting’s book on New Mexico with the same title.
You may think New York is known as the “Empire State” because of the famed Empire State building, but it’s actually the other way around. New York’s nickname is believed to have come from George Washington when he praised New York’s resilience in the war. He called New York “the Seat of the Empire” in 1785 and the Empire State Building, completed in 1931, adopted the phrase as its name.
North Carolina is known as both “The Old North State” because of its division into North and South Carolina in 1710 and “Tar Heel State.” The origins of the “Tar Heel” nickname point to North Carolina’s production of naval stores like tar but may also have roots in battle lingo because “the soldiers of North Carolina stuck to their bloody work as if they had tar on their heels.”
North Dakota’s state nickname is the “Peace Garden State” because of the presence of the International Peace Garden between North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba.
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Ohio is known as the “Buckeye State” because of the state tree, the Ohio Buckeye.
Oklahoma’s state nickname is the “Sooner State.” In April 1889, the U.S. government created a starting time for settlers to enter central Oklahoma and stake their claim to the land. “Sooners” were settlers who entered the land before the designated time. The University of Oklahoma’s football team called themselves “Sooners” one year after Oklahoma gained statehood and the nickname stuck.
Oregon’s nickname, “Beaver State,” comes from the state animal, the American Beaver.
“Keystone State” is Pennsylvania’s nickname because of the state’s important role in the founding of the United States.
Rhode Island’s official state nickname is “Ocean State” because of its many beaches and seaside towns.
South Carolina’s nickname, “Palmetto State,” honors the Palmetto tree that appears on its flag and state seal.
With the memorial being a prominent staple of the state, South Dakota’s official nickname is “The Mount Rushmore State.”
“The Volunteer State” has been a Tennessee nickname since the 19th century but wasn’t officially voted on until February 2020. Tennessee sent 1,500 volunteer soldiers during the War of 1812, and the nickname stuck.
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Texas is known as “The Lone Star State” because of the single star on the state’s red, white and blue flag. The star, adopted before Texas rejoined the Union, represents independence and opposition to the larger United States, the Dallas Morning News reports.
“Beehive State” was chosen as Utah’s state nickname for several reasons. The beehive has been the official state emblem since 1959 because it is an important Mormon symbol. The beehive symbol also references “industry and the pioneer virtues of thrift and perseverance,” Utah History Encyclopedia states. In April 2022, Governor Spencer Cox changed the state nickname to “Be Kind State” for a single day to draw awareness to a campaign promoting acts of kindness.
Vermont’s nickname is “Green Mountain State.” The name Vermont itself comes from the French words vert, meaning green, and mont, meaning mountain.
Virginia’s state nickname is “Old Dominion” because the state was England’s oldest colony in the Americas.
Washington is known as “The Evergreen State” because of its many evergreen forests.
West Virginia’s state nickname is “the Mountain State” because it’s the only state completely within the Appalachian Mountain region, National Geographic reports.
Like its state animal, Wisconsin’s state nickname is “The Badger State.” This was a nickname given to Southwestern Wisconsin miners who took shelter in abandoned mine shafts because they were too busy digging to build houses.
Wyoming is known as “Big Wyoming,” “Cowboy State” and “Equality State.” The first comes from its size and the fact that it’s the least populated state and the second from its prevalent ranching. It’s also called “Equality State” because it was the first state to grant women the right to vote.
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