How Did Each State Get Its Nickname?

Why in the world is Missouri called the Show-Me State? In elementary school, students in the United States usually learn all 50 states and their capitals, but all the state nicknames aren't generally part of the standard curriculum, even though in some cases they might tell us something important. Symbolically, states are more than just their names and capitals: they honor trees, animals, and flowers natural to their regions in their flags or state seals. Each state also has a nickname, official (i.e., adopted by the legislature) or not. Some are more well-known, while others are more obscure.

Sometimes people know a state nickname because it's been around for so long; others have no idea where the nickname came from. Figuring out the reasoning behind why Missouri is called the Show-Me State and where badgers fit into Oregon's nickname might be a little more mysterious than Florida's Sunshine State moniker. No matter which nicknames you might be familiar with, the explanations behind their origins may surprise you. 

  • Alabama got its nickname during the Civil War: newer Confederate uniforms in the state had bits of yellow cloth on parts of their jackets. As soldiers wearing the new uniforms rode by another troop, a soldier mockingly called out "Yellowhammer, yellowhammer, flicker, flicker," referring to birds abundant in Alabama, also known as flickers, whose feathers are a brilliant yellow.

    The distinctive color led to all soldiers from Alabama being referred to as Yellowhammers, a term soldiers proudly accepted. 

  • Alaska is known as The Last Frontier because of its vast, untouched (at one time) wilderness, as well as its distance from the rest of the continental United States.

    As the 49th state admitted to the US, Alaska was also one of the last efforts of official expansion, lending more favor to the nickname. 

  • Although there was some controversy over the nickname for Arizona, in 2011, the state officially adopted The Grand Canyon State moniker to embrace being the home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World - the Grand Canyon.

    Originally known as the Baby State because it was the last state admitted into the US for many years before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, Arizona had no nickname from 1959 to 2011, despite "Grand Canyon State" appearing on its license plates. 

  • Like most states, Arkansas has been known by many nicknames throughout its history. Most unofficial or past nicknames were used to change the perception of the state as "backward," but none were able to quite accomplish that.

    Instead of attempting to alter people's views, legislators decided to focus on the natural beauty of the state, citing "unsurpassed scenery, clear lakes, free-flowing streams, magnificent rivers, meandering bayous, delta bottomlands, forested mountains, and abundant fish and wildlife" when proposing The Natural State as the new state nickname.

  • California's nickname is pretty straightforward. California was a major hub during the Gold Rush in the 1800s and has since been able to continuously mine gold. The state is also known for its golden sunsets and sunshine.

    The golden poppy blooms throughout the state, and one of the most iconic structures in the country, the Golden Gate Bridge, is in San Francisco. It's no wonder the state selected the nickname in 1968.

  • Colorado's nickname came about because of the year the state was admitted into the United States.

    Colorado became the 38th state in 1876, exactly 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, so the Centennial moniker commemorates the 100th anniversary of the United States of America.