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North Carolina State Names (Etymology of Names)

North Carolina Name Etymology and State Nicknames

Middle Atlantic

NC 3D MapNorth Carolina is a state in Southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west, Virginia to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. North Carolina is the 28th most extensive and the 10th most populous of the 50 United States.

North Carolina was named to honor King Charles I (Carolus is Latin for Charles).

North Carolina nicknames

  • The Old North State
  • The Tarheel State
  • Turpentine State
  • First in Flight
  • First in Freedom
  • Land of the Sky
  • The Rip Van Winkle State

Origin of North Carolina State Name

North Carolina named in honor of Charles I of England. In 1629, King Charles I of England "erected into a province," all the land from Albemarle Sound on the north to the St. John's River on the south, which he directed should be called Carolina. Carolina is rooted in Latin and comes from the word Caroliinus. The word Carolina is from the word Carolus, the Latin form of Charles.

North Carolina Nicknames

The Old North State

In 1629, King Charles I of England "erected into a province," all the land from Albemarle Sound on the north to the St. John's River on the south, which he directed should be called Carolina. The word Carolina is from the word Carolus, the Latin form of Charles.

When Carolina was divided in 1710, the southern part was called South Carolina and the northern, or older settlement, North Carolina. From this came the nickname the "Old North State."

The Tar Heel State

Historians have recorded that the principal products during the early history of North Carolina were "tar, pitch, and turpentine." In 1862 "tar-heel" was introduced as a term of ridicule. It was during one of the fiercest battles of the War Between the States, so the story goes, that the column supporting the North Carolina troops was driven from the field. After the battle the North Carolinians, who had successfully fought it out alone, were greeted from the passing derelict regiment with the question: "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?" Quick as a flash came the answer: "No, not a bit, old Jeff's bought it all up." "Is that so; what is he going to do with it?" was asked. "He's going to put on you-un's heels to make you stick better in the next fight." Creecy relates that General Lee, upon hearing of the incident, said: "God bless the Tar Heel boys," and from that they took the name (Adapted from Grandfather Tales of North Carolina by R.B. Creecy and Histories of North Carolina Regiments, Vol. III, by Walter Clark).

The Turpentine State

The principal products of North Carolina in its early history were tar, pitch and turpentine. It is from the latter that this nickname is derived. Large quantities of turpentine were produced from North Carolina pine forests.

First in Flight and First in Freedom

The Wright Brothers launched their first flight in North Carolina, and this has led to First In Flight, a nickname or motto which now appears on car license plates, along with First in Freedom

The Land of the Sky

Derived from a book,The Land of the Sky(1876), by Frances Fisher Tieran who wrote under the name Christian Reid, this nickname references the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina. This nickname, along with "The Old North State", can also be found in a line from the official state toast,

"Where soars Mount Mitchell's summit great, In the "Land of the Sky," in the Old North State!"

The city of Asheville, North Carolina has also adopted "Land of the Sky" as its nickname.

The Rip Van Winkle State

This nickname was mentioned in C.J. Thomas'sManual of Useful Informationbut no explanation for it was given. We could speculate that northern visitors may have compared the mountains of North Carolina to the Catskill mountains of New York where the Rip Van Winkle legend was publicized by Washington Irving.

North Carolina Slogans

  • A Better Place to Be
  • (Raise Up formerly)
  • (First in Flight on its license plate)

North Carolina Postal Code

  • NC

North Carolina Resident's Name

  • North Carolinian - Official (recommended by US GPO)
  • Tar Boiler - Official, unofficial or informal alternates
  • Tar Heel - 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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