For most Americans, we study U.S. history several times throughout our educational experience. And in most cases, sometime in elementary school, one year is entirely dedicated to learning about your state history. The first things you learn are the iconic associations for your state such as the state flower, bird, tree, and nickname. While most state nicknames are named after indigenous flowers, wildlife, or geographic features, the following states break the mold with head-scratching nicknames that need a story to explain how they came to be.
Indiana: The Hoosier State
Unless you’re familiar with the classic sports movie Hoosiers or are a fan of Indiana University’s athletic teams, you’re probably scratching your head and asking “What’s a Hoosier?” There are countless explanations as to why the name “Hoosier” came to be, but a true Hoosier knows there’s only one that’s acceptable. Fun fact: A resident of Indiana is known as a Hoosier (don’t call them an “Indianian” unless you enjoy receiving annoyed looks). Back during the pioneer days, it was common for settlers to be spread out miles apart from each other. When a traveler would come upon a settlement and knock on the cabin door, the usual response was, “Who’s there?” in a local twang that sounded more like “Who’s yere?” Shortened down over time, it somehow became “Hoosier.”
Missouri: The Show-Me State
You’ve probably heard that Missouri is called "The Show-Me State.” But what are they showing, and who is doing the showing? Missouri is yet another state with dueling explanations for its nickname, but the most popular is attributed to U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who represented the state from 1897 to 1903. During his tenure, Vandiver gave a speech during a naval banquet, during which he stated, "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." The rest, as they say, is history.
Montana: The Treasure State
When most people think about Montana, they’re probably more familiar with the phrase “Big Sky Country.” That’s a play on the book titled “Big Sky” by Alfred Bertram Guthrie, Jr. and references the endless horizons and unobstructed landscape views the state offers. But the 41st state in the U.S. is actually rich in minerals. Long before it became a destination for travelers seeking unspoiled nature, prospectors hoping to find gold and silver called the territory home in the 1800s. And they were successful—even sapphires have been found in Montana’s mountains. So, “The Treasure State” is actually a pretty apt name for this western land.
New Mexico: Land of Enchantment
Of all the states in this article, New Mexico’s nickname is the youngest. “Land of Enchantment” was officially adopted as the state’s nickname in 1999. However, the earliest known use of this phrase began in 1935 as part of a tourism campaign to increase travel to the Four Corners state. In 1941, the state began printing license plates with the nickname. Anyone who’s visited this state knows that this nickname is well deserved: New Mexico is most popular for its scenic plateaus, mountains, and brilliant blue skies.
Wyoming: The Equality State
This is probably one of the most interesting state nicknames. If you’re not well-versed in U.S. history, you might not think Wyoming is at the forefront of breaking barriers in women’s rights. But the 44th state was the first to grant women the right to vote. Wyoming passed this law in 1869 when it was still a territory, over 50 years before Congress would ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave select women the unfettered right to vote in 1920. Additionally, this state was also the first to allow women to hold public office and serve on juries. The first female governor in the U.S. was Wyoming’s own Nellie Tayloe Ross in 1924. She would later go on to serve as the first female Director of the United States Mint.
Honorable Mention – Tennessee: The Volunteer State
Tennessee also has a unique nickname, so it deserves an honorable mention. If you’re a University of Tennessee fan, then this probably sounds familiar as their mascot is a Bluetick Coonhound named Smokey, yet they call themselves the Volunteers. While the first use of this nickname is fiercely debated even among state residents, everyone agrees that it’s well-earned. As far back as the War of 1812, Tennesseans were ready to take up arms and volunteer to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. However, most historians agree that this commendable nickname really became commonplace during the Mexican-American War in the 1840s as droves of Tennesseans headed south to Texas to fight in the war—including the legendary frontiersman and Tennessee native, Davy Crockett.