Nicknames are common for people and sports teams, but have you ever wondered why a U.S. state would have a nickname? All 50 states in the United States all have special and different qualities that they like to brag about, some of which are used to encourage people to move to the state, others are designed to attract people to vacation in the state, while others are simply rooted in long-standing history.

Many states developed an initial nickname after they entered the union 200+ years ago, but not all state nicknames have stuck with each state over the years, and many have developed additional nicknames or primary nicknames that they identify with the most or that set them apart from other states. States take their nicknames from various sources so let’s take a look at the North Carolina nickname.

North Carolina Nickname

What is North Carolina’s most common nickname? It is – The Tar Heel State

The Tar Heel State is located on the Atlantic Ocean coastline, midway between New York and Florida. North Carolina is bordered by 4 other states, Virginia to the North, South Carolina and Georgia to the South, and Tennesee to the West. North Carolina is the 29th largest state by landmass, boasting an area of 48,718 square miles.

During the early years, North Carolina was one of the leading producers of tar. Tar is a sticky liquid, usually dark brown or black in color, and is formed by the decay of materials such as wood, coal, or peat. The reasons for the adoption of this North Carolina nickname is somewhat surrounded by controversy and they are both linked with Civil War battles involving North Carolina soldiers.

The first story originates from John S. Farmer’s Americanisms, which was originally published in 1889, the book tells the story of a battle between North Carolina and Mississippi. During this battle, a brigade of North Carolina soldiers failed to hold their position and was subsequently forced to retreat. The Mississippi soldiers taunted the North Carolina colony because of their failure to tar their heels the morning the battle ensued. What they meant by this bizarre insult was that, if the North Carolina brigade had tarred their heels, they would have been able to hold or “stick” to their position.

In the next story regarding the origins of the North Carolina nickname, North Carolina soldiers were perceived to be slightly more heroic than in the previous story. In the story told by Walter Clark, the North Carolina brigade was forced to fight it out alone after their supporting troops failed to hold the position. In this story, the army from North Virginia asked the North Carolina soldiers, “Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?”, the North Carolina soldiers then responded with, “No, not a bit, old Jeff’s bought it all up.” “Is that so – what is he going to do with it?” the North Virginia soldiers asked in response. The reply; “He’s going to put it on your’ heels to make you stick better in the next fight.” “Old Jeff” is a historical reference to the President of the Confederate States of America, named Jefferson Davis.

If you are curious to learn more interesting facts about North Carolina, we have compiled some amazing state facts, many that you probably didn’t know about! One of those interesting facts is that North Carolina is the birthplace of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts! We think you’ll find all these facts about the state and its economy very interesting.

North Carolina Nicknames

Much like many other states, North Carolina has adopted multiple nicknames over the years, not just one. Although the North Carolina nickname, “Tar Heel State” is the official nickname, there are many other North Carolina nicknames used to associate with the state, let’s take a look.

  • The Land of the Sky – this is the first of the unofficial North Carolina nicknames and was derived from a book named, “The Land of the Sky” (1876), written by Francis Fisher Tieran, who wrote and published under the name Christian Reid. This nickname refers to the Blue Bridge and the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.
  • The Old North State – back in 1710, Carolina was divided into two different sections, North and South. The Southern section was called South Carolina and the Northern section, you guessed it, was named North Carolina. This nickname refers to the Northern section, commonly known these days as North Carolina.
  • The Turpentine State – North Carolina has always been known for its long history of tar production, hence the main nickname. However, pitch and turpentine were produced heavily during North Carolina’s early days. Large amounts of turpentine were produced from the pine forests of North Carolina.
  • The Rip Van Winkle State – the first instance of this North Carolina nickname being mentioned was in C.J. Thomas’s Manual of Useful Information. Unfortunately, there has been no official explanation for the adoption and reasons for this nickname.

What is the North Carolina Motto?

Now that you are familiar with the North Carolina nicknames, it makes sense to take a look at the question; what is the North Carolina motto? All states have a unique state motto/slogan, usually derived from an event linked with the state’s historical past, mottos tend to be given to the state as a representation of the people past and present.

“Esse quam videri” is the motto for North Carolina, this Latin phrase translates to “To be rather than to seem.” and is a quote from the De Amicitia, an essay on friendship by the Roman author and politician Cicero that dates to 44 B.C. Nowadays, many believe this phrase pays homage to the people of North Carolina and their straight-up attitude towards life and various other situations.

If you are interested in learning about the North Carolina state abbreviation, make sure to check out our page on this. Unlike some other states, the North Carolina state abbreviation is easier to and memorize. However, knowing these state abbreviations is highly recommended for multiple reasons.