Why do states have names and nicknames?

When people initially founded the states of the nation, the first thing they did was choose a name for their area of land. The name helps establishes the identity of the state. Almost half of the states have names of that come from Native American languages; for example, Arizona probably came from the Indian word arizonac, meaning “small springs” and Connecticut came from the Indian quinnitukq-ut, meaning “at the long river.” Other states were named for people or places the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León named Florida after the Spanish words Pascua florida, meaning “flowery Easter.” He discovered Florida during the Easter season, in March 1513, when his ships landed on Florida's east coast near present-day St. Augustine. “La Florida” had a lavish landscape, abundant flowers, and beautiful beaches, so the state name embodies both aspect of de León's discovery.

Similarly, the people give nicknames to their states to further establish their identities. Alaska is called “Land of the Midnight Sun,” because the Sun shines almost all night long during Alaskan summers; Colorado is nicknamed the “Centennial State” because it became a state in the year 1876, 100 years after the signing of our nation's Declaration of Independence; Georgia is called the “Peach State” because of the growers' reputation for producing delicious peaches; and Wyoming is known as the “Equality State” because of the civil rights women have traditionally enjoyed there.

In addition to naming their states, founders design a flag, using colors and symbols that have special meaning. They also choose mottoes (words or phrases), often in Latin, that help express the state's character. For example, New York's motto is Excelsior, Latin for “Ever upward!” Oklahoma's motto, Labor omnia vincit, means “Labor conquers all things.” Another important emblem is the state seal, which is placed on all official documents and usually bears the state motto.


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