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What’s in a name? From the Hoosier State to the Equality State, every state has its own nickname, official or otherwise — proudly displayed on license plates, souvenirs, and memorabilia. These nicknames also permeate pop culture through countless songs, movies, and books.
Wondering which states have the best nicknames? You’re not alone. Read on for our list of America's top-ranked state monikers — and the often surprising stories behind them.
The Volunteer State: Tennessee
It's widely believed that Tennessee was nicknamed "The Volunteer State" after the War of 1812. During this war, Tennessee played an important role in America's victory against the British.
In 1813, Tennessee governor Willie Blount put the word out that volunteers were needed to fight — and thousands of men signed up immediately. This helped to cast the relatively unknown region into the national spotlight. The state continued to cement its relevance in the public's eye after Tennessee troops helped lead the army to a victory in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
The state's reputation for self-sacrificial public service continued decades later during the Mexican-American War, when the secretary of state requested 2,800 soldiers from Tennessee. Upwards of 30,000 volunteers responded to the call. To this day, the volunteer mentality remains an important part of daily life in Tennessee. In fact, the intercollegiate athletics teams at the University of Tennessee are known as The Volunteers.
The Show-Me State: Missouri
The "Show-Me State" nickname is an incredibly popular moniker that can be found on Missouri license plates. While the exact story behind this nickname is unclear, there's a popular theory as to where it originated.
In 1899, Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver gave a speech at a naval banquet. In this speech, he talked about his cautious and reserved nature and stressed to his audience that he always appreciated hard facts instead of "frothy eloquence." He then went on to utter the famous line, "I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
Some other potential origin stories are less charming . For example, some people believe that the nickname was used as a means of ridicule during the Leadville miners' strike (1896-1897) in Colorado. Accordingly, Missouri miners were brought in to work during the strike. Since they were unfamiliar with the mining methods in Colorado, pit bosses often had to "show" them how things were done.
Either way, the "show me" mentality is now considered a positive representation of the candid and practical nature of Missouri residents.
The Peach State: Georgia
Few fruits are more iconic than a Georgia peach. Not only is Georgia is one of the top four peach-producing states in the country, but the peach is also Georgia's official state fruit and can even be found on the Georgia state quarter.
In fact, peaches are so important in Georgia that the state holds an annual peach festival every June. Attracting upwards of 10,000 visitors, the Georgia Peach Festival celebrates the beginning of the peach season and honors peach farmers for their contributions to the state's economy.
Events held during the festival include a parade, music concerts, and a Miss Georgia Peach pageant. The world's largest peach cobbler is also baked during the festival every year. In 2019, the cobbler took 90 pounds of butter, 75 gallons of peaches, and 150 pounds of sugar to make.
The Cornhusker State: Nebraska
Although it was originally known as the Tree Planter's State, Nebraska took on its current nickname in 1945. The name "The Cornhuskers" actually comes from the athletic teams at the University of Nebraska.
Corn has always been an important part of Nebraskan life. Considered one of the breadbasket states, Nebraska's nickname represents the important role the state plays in American agriculture. Nebraska generally produces more than one billion bushels of corn each year, with over nine million acres of land dedicated to growing the crop.
In fact, Nebraska is so well known for its cornfields that the association has worked its way into pop culture — the popular horror film Children of the Corn is set in a fictional Nebraskan town.
The Hoosier State: Indiana
This is one of the oldest state nicknames — and also one of the most mysterious. The name "Hoosier" seems to have appeared out of nowhere, with its origins even a puzzle to state residents way back in the 1830s. One of the earliest appearances of the word in writing occurred in 1827 in the diary of Indiana politician Sandford Cox.
In 1832, a letter between an Indiana civilian and a general referenced a boat named the Indiana Hoosier. Then, no one seemed quite sure where the word came from — just that it was used to refer to residents of Indiana.
One theory suggests that the term originated in the way Indiana settlers responded when someone knocked on their door: "Who's yere?" These words may have eventually combined to become the word "Hoosier." Another theory suggests that the word derives from "hoozer," a term meaning "hill dweller" in a particular English dialect. Regardless of its origins, however, the name "Hoosier" is seen as a positive, if not mysterious, badge of honor by Indiana locals today.
The Cheese State: Wisconsin
In 2019, Wisconsin produced 3.36 billion pounds of cheese. It's no wonder that our nation's "Cheese State" has also claimed the title of America's Dairyland. But, while it boldly leads the country in cheese production, dairy was actually Plan B for Wisconsin's first Swiss settlers.
When farmers fled Switzerland's economic depression in the early 1800s, they thought they left the work of the Old World behind them. They settled on plots of Wisconsin land and helped the state produce one-sixth of the nation's wheat supply. Soon, however, soil depletion and crop failures had them returning to their dairying roots. By 1915, Wisconsin was once again top-ranked for the production of butter and cheese.
It didn't take long for residents to embrace their state’s new identity. Foam "Cheesehead" hats have become a staple at Green Bay Packer games. This great garb combined with state pride makes it easy for Wisconsinites to "say cheese!"
The Equality State: Wyoming
Early in its history, Wyoming struggled to meet the minimum voting population requirement for statehood. In order to reach the threshold, it passed the Woman Suffrage Act of 1869. In doing so, it became the first state to grant female suffrage. Predating the 19th Amendment by over 50 years, the territory gained admission to the Union and a new nickname: The Equality State.
As a result of this move, Louisa Garner Swain was able to cast her ballot in 1870 and become the first of many Wyomingite women to do so. A life-sized bronze statue was erected in her honor outside the Wyoming House for Historic Women.
The history-making didn't stop there. In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross became Wyoming's governor — the first woman to hold the position in the country. The state motto, "Equal Rights," reinforces the state’s longstanding mission on every state seal and flag.
The Beehive State: Utah
Before it gained this unofficial nickname, Utah was called "The State of Deseret." In the Book of Mormon (that religion’s sacred text), the word “deseret” refers to a honeybee. Early Mormon settlers saw the insect as a perfect symbol of their industrious and collaborative values. This helps explain the abundance of bee references throughout the state, despite Utah ranking twenty-fourth in honey production in 2016.
Even with a lack of real bees, the state certainly buzzes with visitors every summer. Zion National Park, home to 79 species of mammals, attracts 4.3 million tourists each year.
Utah is a great spot for the colder months, as well. In 2002, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics — the ultimate demonstration of the cooperation and unity the state's founders had envisioned.
The Palmetto State: South Carolina
South Carolina's state nickname pays a tribute to the sabal palmetto tree, a palm that can tower over four stories high. The tree’s massive trunk has served as a building material since the pre-Colonial era and even reportedly played a role in helping the United States gain its independence.
During the Revolutionary War, palmetto trees also became a useful defense for South Carolina's militia. These imposing plants deflected British cannonballs, providing a crucial advantage for the battle at Fort Moultrie — which forever earned the trees a place in the hearts of South Carolinians.
Reciters of the state's pledge swear "love, loyalty, and faith" to the Palmetto State, and the highest civilian honor a resident can earn is "The Order of the Palmetto." Now, whether they're towering overhead or raised on flagpoles, the palmetto trees are something to look up to.
The Tar Heel State: North Carolina
Like South Carolina, North Carolina has a nickname that can be traced back to trees. Early in its history, the state was a leader in producing naval supplies. In particular, workers had to smelt pine logs to produce tar and pitch. Tar was used to protect the rigging of ships, while pitch was used to coat the hulls of ships. These workers often had sticky tar clinging to their heels; thus, they were nicknamed "tar heels."
For a while, the term was a derogatory one, used to imply that someone was a laborer in a menial field. However, during the Civil War, North Carolinian soldiers reclaimed the term and reinvented its meaning.
Since then, the phrase has served as the state nickname and has been the title of many accomplished sports teams. Mia Hamm, a former player for the University of North Carolina's soccer team, has two Olympic gold medals — proving that being a Tar Heel clearly takes skill.
The Peace Garden State: North Dakota
North Dakota's idyllic title, the Peace Garden State, serves both as a nickname and a marketing tactic. The moniker references the International Peace Garden, a park found along the border of North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada. It was conceived in 1928 by Dr. Henry J. Moore of Ontario, with the hopes that it would bring people together in friendship. With 150,000 visitors annually, it's safe to say that his mission has been accomplished.
In the 1980s, the Peace Tower Monument was added to the site. At 120 feet, the monument has four pillars that stand as symbols of the gathering of people from all four corners of the world. Encompassing territory from both the United States and Canada, the garden holds the title of the longest unguarded boundary in the world.
If these displays of unity aren't enough, the park also plants over 150,000 flowers each year for world peace. Undoubtedly a landmark to be proud of, it's unsurprising that the North Dakota legislature formally adopted the "Peace Garden State" nickname just one year after it first appeared on DMV license plates.