What’s in a Name?

Posted April 28, 2004 at 3:59pm

Many of you probably know Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. But do you also know that it has been referred to as the Sucker State? Find out where the uncommon nicknames for Illinois and other states come from.

Georgia
Common Nickname:

Peach State
Uncommon Names: Goober State, Cracker State

Like the Peach State’s reference to the native fruit, Georgia’s goober moniker calls attention to its peanuts (or “goobers”). Georgia, with Florida, also has been called the “Cracker State.” The older Georgia nickname was a derogatory term that referred to newcomers, called “Crackers,” from the inter-mountain hinterlands of Appalachia.

Illinois
Common Nicknames:
Land of Lincoln, Prairie State
Uncommon Name: Sucker State

Are the fine citizens of Illinois losers? Or are they gullible? There are many theories as to the origins of Illinois’ 19th-century nickname. According to local lore, people traveling across the prairie in search of water would stick hollow reeds into crawfish holes and extract hydrated relief. A more popular theory for the “Sucker” name was apparently given to Illinoisians by residents of Missouri, comparing migrants heading upriver to the bustling Illinois port town of Galena in search of work to the so-called “sucker” fish, which head upstream in the springtime.

Maine
Common Nickname: Pine Tree State
Uncommon Name: Switzerland of America

While there are towns in Maine called Mexico, West Paris and West Peru, there are no Berns, Genevas or Zurichs. But Maine has been called the Switzerland of America nonetheless, because of its snowfall and mountains. The Pine Tree State does have competition for its Helvatian nickname: New Hampshire and Colorado, too, call themselves the Switzerland of America.

Montana
Common Nicknames: Big Sky Country, Mountain State
Uncommon Name: Toe-Stub State

Ever since the Shoshone Indian guide Sakajawea led explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark through the Bitterroot Mountains 200 years ago, the state’s cragged peaks have no doubt injured the feet of countless hikers. According to one account, a 1920s guidebook to the state called Montana the Toe-Stub State, but for some reason that name soon fell out of favor.

Nebraska
Common Nickname: Cornhusker State
Uncommon Name: Bug-Eating State

With a swarm of cicadas set to infest the nation’s capital next month, don’t expect members of the Nebraska delegation or their staffs to help mitigate the invasion by eating the noisy creatures. Although Cornhuskers may also be known as “bug-eaters,” that name came from the state’s grub-loving bat population — and is not a reference to any sort of insect diet of its human residents.

Oregon
Common Nickname: Beaver State
Uncommon Name: Hard-Case State

At a time when the state of Oregon is struggling with financial woes and its underfunded schools are mocked in Doonesbury, one of the state’s uncommon names — the Hard-Case State — is hardly a modern moniker. It dates to the pioneer days when the people of the Willamette Valley faced hardship getting settled in the West.

Rhode Island
Common Nickname:
Ocean State
Uncommon Name: Plantation State

As one of the nation’s smallest and most urbanized states, Rhode Island doesn’t have many farms, or plantations for that matter. But the state’s official name from its 1663 royal charter — Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — has given the Ocean State its more uncommon name.

From Staff Research