A Brit’s Guide to American Regional Nicknames

Greenbay Packer fans don't seem to mind the Cheesehead nickname. (Flickr)

Green Bay Packers fans don’t seem to mind the Cheesehead nickname. (Flickr)

Just like the U.K. with its Potteries, Fens and Black Country, the U.S. has many regional nicknames. We’re all familiar with New York being the Big Apple but did you know that the Mile High City is Denver or that Big D is Dallas? It’s worth knowing some of these nicknames as Americans use them all the time. Additionally, the nicknames usually refer to something very specific, and interesting, about the city.

Chicago, for example, has a number of nicknames. Possibly the most well known is The Windy City and there’s some debate on the reason for this. If you’ve been to Chicago, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was because of the wind whistling in off Lake Michigan. However, there’s another theory that it’s because of the hot air that politicians used to (and still) spout. It’s also called Chi-Town (pronounced Shy Town), and The City of Big Shoulders. This nickname is taken from the 1916 poem, “Chicago”, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Carl Sandberg.

It begins:

“Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders”

Detroit is nicknamed Motown, which many associate with the record label and music genre, but the name is actually a mash-up of motor and town; Detroit’s auto industry used to dominate the market. Los Angeles has perhaps the most nicknames. It’s known as the City of Angels because Los Angeles means “the angels” in Spanish. Tinseltown and La-la Land are nicknames it’s earned because of the celebrity connection, while The Big Orange refers to the fruit growing in the warm, sunny climate.

All states have a two letter abbreviation which is used for mailing purposes (and should never be omitted on an envelope). Like cities, many states also have nicknames and mottos, some more well known than others. While some have fairly obvious nicknames like Arizona being The Grand Canyon State, other nicknames are quite obscure.

For example, Colorado is nicknamed the Centennial State because it became a state in the year 1876, 100 years after the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Missouri has the strange nickname of The Show Me State, a name attributed to Representative Willard Van Diver. While attending an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia, Van Diver declared, “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.”

As if that’s not enough, some states have catchy slogans often seen on car license (registration) plates. Confusingly, these may or may not be the same as the semi-official nicknames above and are regularly changed to keep up with whatever tourism ads are currently in vogue. In line with its “Pure Michigan” campaign for example, 2013 saw the introduction of a shiny new plate with those words writ large.

Michigan License Plate

You can proudly support your state with a statement on the back of your car. (MG)

Inhabitants of U.S. regions also have nicknames, much in the way that England has Scousers, Geordies and Cockneys. One of my favorites is “Cheeseheads” for people from Wisconsin and, more specifically, for fans of the state’s NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. (Wisconsin produces a lot of cheese.) People from Oklahoma are referred to as Okies and Sooners (official explanation here), residents of New Orleans are called “Yats” (from the phrase “Where y’at?”) and people living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are often referred to as Yoopers (U.P = Upper Peninsula). There are obviously many more such nicknames, some known on a national level and some only locally. In Chicago, suburbanites are often called 708’ers because of their area code. (Not surprisingly, North Shore residents aren’t called 847’ers; it just doesn’t have the same ring.)

In most cases, regional nicknames aren’t derogatory although calling a resident of Massachusetts a Masshole is probably pushing your luck and redneck is just asking for trouble, as only rednecks get to call themselves rednecks!

What’s the nickname for the state you live in?

See More:

A British Expat’s Guide to Living in Indiana
A Brit’s Guide to Understanding American High School Customs
Five Clues That You’re Becoming Americanized, Brits
Eight Stupid Mistakes Brits Make in the U.S.