While every state in America has a nickname (or two, or three), some just don’t make a lot of sense. For example, Indiana is called the “Hoosier State,” but no one really knows when the term “hoosier” became a thing, or why. It’s far from the only example: These 15 other states have nicknames adopted long ago that — however beloved — could probably use a refresh.
Alabama: The Cotton State
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, one of Alabama’s main crops was cotton — and it sat squarely in the Cotton Belt, earning it the nickname “the Cotton State.” But it wasn’t the top producer at the time, and it’s still not the top producer of cotton. In 2016, Alabama ranked behind Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas in upland cotton production (which accounts for 97% of U.S. cotton). State leaders tried to replace it with the more distinctive “Heart of Dixie” in the 1940s, to promote its location at the geographical center of the South, and to distinguish Alabama from the many other cotton-producing states surrounding it. Although it’s not the official state nickname, the slogan was adopted on Alabama license plates in 1955.
Alaska: The Last Frontier
When the United States acquired Alaska in 1868, the territory became known as "The Last Frontier," thanks to its vast unsettled areas, rugged wilderness, and its distance from the other states and territories at the time. A common misperception of the nickname, though, is that it means Alaska was the last state to join the Union. While that was true at one time, this was only for a short while. Both Alaska and Hawaii officially became states in 1959. Alaska achieved statehood in January, while Hawaii didn't become a state until August. In this case, it sounds like Hawaii is the real last frontier.
California: The Golden State
In 1848, gold was found near Sacramento on the American River. That discovery sparked the gold rush, an influx of more than 100,000 people to California, all hoping to strike it rich with golden discoveries. As a result, California was quickly admitted to the Union as the 31st state in 1850. Almost immediately, it became known as the “Golden State.” Today, however, the most gold someone might find are the fields of golden poppies that bloom across the state each spring. Gold discoveries started to steeply decline in the late 1800s; by then, gold mining was replaced with agriculture as the state’s main economic driver.
Connecticut: The Constitution State
The United States Constitution was written and signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. So why is Connecticut known as “the Constitution State”? A historian from the state, John Fiske, claimed in the 1800s that the country’s first constitution was actually penned in Connecticut in 1638 and 1639. The document was called the Fundamental Orders, and it explained the powers and limitations of the government in the towns along the Connecticut River. While it may have been a model for the federal constitution, considering that Connecticut wouldn’t become a state until 1788 — a year after the U.S. Constitution was written — the nickname doesn’t make all that much sense.
Florida: The Sunshine State
Florida certainly has no shortage of sunny weather, but it doesn’t top the list of sunniest states in the U.S. In fact, nine other states outrank it — Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Utah all have more average annual sunshine. Florida’s nickname, while not entirely misleading, was adopted as a tourism driver to the state. And as anyone who has traveled there during the summer can point out, it rains just about every day, but fortunately usually only for a brief period.
Illinois: The Prairie State
At one time, 60% of Illinois was covered in rolling prairie — earning it the nickname “the Prairie State” in 1842. Today, though, only about 2,500 acres of the state’s original 22 million acres of prairie remain. Most of the prairie has been consumed by farmland and urban development, unfortunately making the state’s nickname a relic of the past. Perhaps the nickname should officially be dropped in favor of the state’s other moniker, “the Land of Lincoln,” a reference to the 16th President’s early political career in Illinois.
Kansas: The Sunflower State
The sunflower is Kansas’ state flower, as well as the state nickname, but maybe that should be reconsidered. The state falls well short of the top two sunflower production states: North Dakota and South Dakota. While Kansas does rank fourth in the country, it produces about 102 million pounds annually, compared to 1.3 billion in North Dakota and 1.2 billion in South Dakota. Kansas also doesn’t grow the most wheat in the country anymore, in opposition to its other nickname, “the Wheat State.” A third nickname has to do with jayhawks, which aren’t even real birds — they’re a combination of blue jays and sparrow hawks. “The Midway State,” one of Kansas’ other nicknames, is really one of the only ones that makes sense, because the geographical center of the country is located in the state.
Michigan: The Wolverine State
Michigan may nicknamed “the Wolverine State,” but there’s only one known wild wolverine there — and it’s stuffed and on display at the Bay City State Park visitor center. It’s also the first wolverine ever verified to be living in the wild in Michigan, first discovered nearly 100 miles north of Detroit in 2004. So where did the nickname come from? The popular theory is that when Michigan and Ohio battled in the Toledo War in 1835, Ohioans called Michiganders “wolverines” because they said the Michigan soldiers were ornery like wolverines. But with no wolverines and no more inter-state wars, perhaps Michigan needs a new mascot.
Minnesota: The North Star State
Minnesota’s nickname is the translation of the state's French motto "L'Etoile du Nord." The state’s governor, Henry Sibley, proposed it in 1861 because Minnesota was the northernmost state in the country at the time. However, this nickname has been especially misleading since Alaska joined the U.S. in 1959, making that state the country’s true north star.
New Jersey: The Garden State
New Jersey’s "Garden State" nickname evokes green pastures and wide open spaces, but in fact, it is the most densely populated state in the country. Abraham Browning, who served as New Jersey’s attorney general from 1845 to 1850, is often credited with coining the nickname in a speech at the 1876 Philadelphia world’s fair. He reportedly said, "Our Garden State is an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and New Yorkers from the other." While some have debunked that history, the nickname has stuck — despite the fact there isn’t much garden to be found in the state these days.
North Carolina: The Tar Heel State
North Carolina earned its nickname sometime between 1720 and 1870. During that time, thanks to the abundance of pine forests around the state, it was one of the largest producers of shipbuilding materials like pitch, rosin, turpentine… and tar. The origins of the “Tar Heel State” moniker are murky, however. One popular legend pinpoints it to an exchange between Civil War soldiers after a fierce battle, when the victorious North Carolina soldiers told the opposing side they should stick tar on their heels for the next battle. The term eventually morphed into a symbol of pride for the state, but today the most tar comes from Canada, and there hasn’t been a battle in North Carolina since the Civil War.
Tennessee: The Volunteer State
Tennesseans really showed up during the War of 1812. About 1,500 volunteer soldiers came from the state for the fight, earning it the nickname “The Volunteer State.” And although it’s had the nickname unofficially since then, it was only adopted by the state legislature in 2020 — despite the fact that it’s already long out of date. Tennessee may have made a splash in 1812, but nowadays it doesn’t even crack the top 10 states with the most military members, both by population size and by raw numbers. South Carolina and California, respectively, are churning out the most volunteer soldiers in those categories.
Utah: The Beehive State
Utah’s nickname isn’t entirely inaccurate — but it is a bit misleading. You might expect "the Beehive State" to be a leader in honey production, but Utah actually ranks 24th in the nation. So why is it called the Beehive State? According to historians, when the Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847, they adopted the beehive as an emblem of their new community since it represented hard work and industry. In fact, Utahns value a strong work ethic so much that their state motto is simply "Industry." So the busy bees in the Utah beehives are not real bees, but rather hard-working people.
Virginia: The Old Dominion State
Virginia’s nickname, “the Old Dominion State,” has been confusing from the beginning — so much so that no one really knows how it came to be called that. The prevailing theory is that Virginia was the first of England’s overseas properties, so it was named “Old Dominion” to reflect that fact. But when Virginia was colonized in 1624, it was actually the fifth domain of the crown, not the first. Another possible explanation is that King Charles II bestowed the nickname in 1660, calling it his “loyal old dominion,” but there’s no documented proof that Charles actually said that. While the nickname took hold and is still popular today, clearly it no longer makes (or never made) sense.
Wisconsin: The Badger State
Wisconsin's “Badger State” nickname doesn’t have anything to do with its population of the short-legged, furry creatures. The nickname originated in the 1820s, when thousands of lead miners flocked to the Midwest. They made their homes underground, by digging hovels in the rock — much like badgers do. Due to their crude houses, these miners became known as "badgers" or "badger boys." There were so many of them (or maybe the nickname was just so amusing) that the whole state became known as the Badger State; however, the state’s lead mining boom is long gone.