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Nebraska State Names (Etymology of Names)

Nebraska Name Origin and State Nicknames

Great Plains

NE 3D Map: State Name OriginNebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. Its state capital is Lincoln. Its largest city is Omaha, which is on the Missouri River. The state is bordered by South Dakota to the north; Iowa to the east and Missouri to the southeast, across the Missouri River; Kansas to the south; Colorado to the southwest; and Wyoming to the west.

The name Nebraska is from an Oto Indian word that means "flat water" (referring to the Platte River, which means "flat river" in French)

Nebraska Nicknames

Nebraska has had two official state names: the Tree Planters' State and the Cornhusker State.

  • Cornhusker State (Official)
  • Tree Planters' State (Official)
  • Antelope State
  • Bugeating State
  • Beef State
  • Black Water State
  • Squatters

Origin of Montana State Name

The state of Nebraska is actually named after the Platte River from the French meaning "broad river." The Omaha Indians called the river "ib?pka" also meaning "broad river."

In 1842, John Charles Fremont used the word Nebraska in referencing the Platte River and this was the name that was given to the territory when it was created in 1854.

nebraska is from an Oto Indian word meaning "flat water."

Nebraska Nicknames

Nebraskans have been blessed (or cursed) with various nicknames including "Bug Eaters," "Tree Planters," and "Cornhuskers." Nebraska has had two official state names: "The Tree Planter State" (1895), and "The Cornhusker State" (1945-present). From 1956 through 1965, the license plate carried the motto, "The Beef State," but it was never an official state name by act of the legislature.

Cornhusker State

The 1945 Legislature changed the official state name to the Cornhusker State, thus repealing the 1895 act. The name is derived from the nickname for the University of Nebraska athletic teams, the Cornhuskers. The term "cornhusker" comes from the method of harvesting or "husking" corn by hand, which was common before the invention of huskingn machinery.

Nebraska Revised Statute 90-101

Revised Statutes ? Chapter 90 ? 90-101
90-101. State name.
The State of Nebraska shall hereafter, in a popular sense, be known and referred to as the Cornhusker State.
Source
Laws 1945, c. 256, ? 1, p. 796;
R.R.S.1943, ? 84-713.01.

Tree Planters' State

Nebraska designated the Tree Planters' State by legislative action in 1895. Nebraska? claim to tree-planting fame includes the founding of Arbor Day in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, the Timber Culture Act of US Sen. Phineas W. Hitchcock in 1873, and the millions of trees planted by early settlers as windbreaks, woodlots and orchards.

Antelope State

For pronghorns.

Bugeating State

For insect-eating "bull bats." or others have called it the Bugeating State, after a nickname of "Bug-eaters" given to Nebraskans, a derogatory term based on the poverty-stricken appearance of the state.

Black Water State

The dark color of its rivers resulted in some calling it the Black Water State in around 1916.

Beef State

license plates

Squatters

Earliest nickname applied to Nebraska residents was "Squatters," according to a July 21, 1860, article in the Omaha Weekly Nebraskian.


Nicknames for Nebraska (1)

The Pioneer Record (Verdon), the organ of the Nebraska Territorial Pioneers Association, in November 1894 included a brief article written by John A. MacMurphy on contemporary efforts to replace the "bugeater" nickname for Nebraskans with something more refined. MacMurphy, an early Nebraska newspaperman (and in 1894 association secretary), reported:

"At the very first meeting of the [Territorial] Pioneers [Association] in May, 1892, a member protested against the nickname, or totem name as I call it, of Nebraskans, namely, 'bug-eaters.' The 'Sons and Daughters of Nebraska,' composed of those born in the state, was organized at the same time, and they were on the street with ribbons and badges of their order, which had printed on them a big bug and the legend, 'Bug-Eaters.' Of course they did not think how it looked or sounded, but did it merely as a joke. A committee was appointed at the time to suggest a more euphonious and appropriate name, but nothing was really done about the matter until our October meeting this year when the name of 'TREE PLANTERS' was suggested and adopted at once, as emblematic, a pleasant sounding name and most appropriate, for Nebraska has planted more trees since she was named and settled than any other state in the Union. . . .

"The title of 'Bug-eater' is a misnomer. It does not apply to Nebraska. The totem name of other states, or of the citizens thereof, all mean something. . . . This bug-eater business is said to have originated during the potato-bug and grasshopper times. An eastern man came out here to visit his relatives. On his return they asked him, of course, how things were in Nebraska? It was our worst time, our one year of a double plague, so he answered, 'Oh, everything is gone up there. The grasshoppers have eaten the grain up, the potato-bugs ate the 'taters all up, and now the inhabitants are eating the bugs to keep alive.' Some newspaper man heard it and published it as a good joke, and it stuck to us for a good while. . . . By all means, then, give us the 'Tree Planters,' which is an honor, a glory, a fact and a pleasant reminiscence of the great change that has come to our prairie country in the short time since its first settlement. Help the Pioneers to fix this name in the public mind, and say good-bye to the Bug-eaters forever.--Jno. A. MacMurphy, Secy. T.P.A., 1921 Farnam St., Omaha, Neb."

(March 2003)

Nicknames for Nebraska (2)

Nebraskans have been blessed (or cursed) with various nicknames including "Bug Eaters," "Tree Planters," and "Cornhuskers." Nebraska has had two official state names: "The Tree Planter State" (1895), and "The Cornhusker State" (1945-present). From 1956 through 1965, the license plate carried the motto, "The Beef State," but it was never an official state name by act of the legislature.

Apparently the earliest nickname applied to Nebraska residents was "Squatters," according to a July 21, 1860, article in the Omaha Weekly Nebraskian. This term undoubtedly derived from the fact that many early Nebraska settlers moved onto their claims before the land had been surveyed. Although being called squatters was not very flattering or inspiring, other state nicknames of that era were arguably worse. How about the South Carolina Weasels, the Illinois Suckers, the Alabama Lizards, the Georgia Buzzards, the Missouri Pukes, or the Mississippi Tadpoles? Several state nicknames in 1860 were the same as today, for example, the Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan Wolverines, and Iowa Hawkeyes.

By the later years of the nineteenth century, "Bug Eaters" had replaced "Squatters" as the Nebraska nickname. According to John A. MacMurphy, secretary of the Nebraska Territorial Pioneers Association, writing in November 1894, the bug eater appellation probably originated during the grasshopper invasions of the 1870s. An easterner came to Nebraska to visit relatives and, on his return home, was asked about conditions here. According to MacMurphy's account, the man responded, "Oh, everything is gone up there. The grasshoppers have eaten the grain up, the potato bugs ate the 'taters all up, and now the inhabitants are eating the bugs to keep alive." Some newspaperman heard the comment and published it as a joke.

MacMurphy argued that the Territorial Pioneers and other groups should promote "Tree Planters" as the official state nickname "and say goodbye to the Bug-eaters forever." Their efforts succeeded when the legislature on April 4, 1895, passed a resolution declaring Nebraska "The Tree Planters State" in honor of its role as the originator of Arbor Day.

(December 2004)
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society


Nebraska Slogans

  • (formerly - The Good Life)
  • Possibilities...Endless

Nebraska Postal Code

  • NE

Nebraska Resident's Name

  • Nebraskan - Official (recommended by US GPO)
  • Cornhusker - Official, unofficial or informal alternates
State Names
State Names & Nicknames
The etymologies of some US state names are more obvious than others, derived from the Spanish or French tongue. Though, more than half of the US state names come from Native American tribal languages, with several still a mystery to scholars and historians.
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