The Quick 10: 10 State Nickname Explanations

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So, college football fans, you might have noticed that my beloved Iowa State Cyclones lost the big state rivalry to the Iowa Hawkeyes last weekend. Badly. It wasn't pretty. This inevitably leads to all of the University of Iowa fans to take to Facebook and Twitter to proclaim "It's still a Hawkeye State!!!" Yep. It is. But why is it the Hawkeye State? I have the answer to that burning question "“ and explanations behind nine other state nicknames "“ below.

peace1. North Dakota is the Peace Garden State. The International Peace Garden falls across both North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba and offers the state a much nobler nickname than the Flickertail State (it's a type of ground squirrel).
2. Arizona used to be called the Valentine State. That might seem like a pretty random nickname, but when you consider that it was made a state on February 14, 1912, it all starts to make sense"¦ and so do those "Arizona is for Lovers" shirts.

3. Delaware has the distinction of being the First State to ratify the constitution, and that's what you'll usually see on Delaware license plates. Surely that's only because "Uncle Sam's Pocket Handkerchief" won't fit, which is a reference to Delaware's diminutive size and its patriotic origins.

4. When I read that Colorado is sometimes called the "Switzerland of America," I briefly thought, "Because it's neutral?" Um"¦ no. Because of the mountains. Duh.

5. Arkansas may have been letting it be known that they are not a state to be messed with when they called themselves the Toothpick State. The Toothpick was a large knife, similar to the Bowie Knife, but longer and more throw-able. Speaking of which, Arkansas also has the nickname "The Bowie State" because the blacksmith who made the Bowie knife for Jim Bowie lived in Arkansas and popularized the blade there. Officially, Arkansas is "The Natural State."

6. "The Goober State" might sound like a pretty rude nickname for Georgia, but it's really not "“ "Goober" is a term for peanuts, and since Georgia is famous for producing peanuts, it makes sense.

cockade7. The state we usually know as the Free State (Maryland, in case you haven't been brushing up on your Jeopardy! questions lately) was once called the Cockade State. I know"¦ it sounds slightly questionable. A cockade is actually a ribbon ornament worn on hats as decoration (pictured), and this Revolutionary War-era nickname was coined when someone wrote that Maryland's young soldiers wore brilliant cockades.
8. You likely know Tennessee as the Volunteer State, especially if you're a sports fan, but back in the day, it wasn't uncommon to hear it referred to as "The Butternut State" (or likewise for Tennessee natives to be called butternuts). It's not because the area is so rich in squash, though "“ it's because the tan uniforms Tennessee soldiers wore during the Civil War resembled the color of butternut squash, and eventually the name spread to the whole state.
9. Oklahoma is obviously the Sooner State, but what does that mean? Well, way back when Oklahoma was called the Unassigned Lands, "Sooner" was a derogatory term referring to people who showed up and staked claim on the land before they were legally supposed to be able to.

10. And, of course, Iowa. We're the Hawkeye State because of literary origins, surprisingly enough. Well, maybe. There are two schools of thought there. #1: Natty Bumppo of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (which includes Last of the Mohicans) also goes by the nickname of Hawkeye, and Judge David Rorer of Burlington, Iowa, is said to have suggested the name after reading the novels. Story #2: we're named for Chief Black Hawk, a Sauk tribe leader. Take your pick.

Do you know the story behind your state nickname, or one of the old nicknames that isn't used much these days? Let us know in the comments!

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September 16, 2009 - 1:06pm
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