Alabama State Names (Etymology of Names)

Alabama Name Origin and State Nicknames

Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, State of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west.

The European-American naming of the Alabama River and state originates from the Alabama people, a Muskogean-speaking tribe whose members lived just below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers on the upper reaches of the river. Sources disagree on the meaning of the word. Scholars believe the word comes from the Choctaw alba (meaning "plants" or "weeds") and amo (meaning "to cut", "to trim", or "to gather")

Alabama Nicknames

  • The Heart of Dixie
  • Yellowhammer State
  • Cotton State
  • Stars Fell on Alabama
  • Camellia State
  • Lizard State
  • Cotton Plantation State

Origin of Alabama State Name

The state of Alabama was named after the river. The Alabama River was named by early European explorers after the Indian tribe that lived in the territory and first appeared in 1540 spelled as "Alibamu", "Alibamo" and even "Limamu" in the journals of the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto (c.1500-1542). The origin of the name Alabama is thought to come from a combination of two Choctaw words; Alba and Amo. In Choctaw, "Alba" means vegetation, herbs, plants and "Amo" means gatherer or picker. "Vegetation gatherers" would be an apt description for the Alabama Indians who cleared much land for agricultural purposes.

The State's Name

The etymology of the word or name, Alabama, has evoked much discussion among philological researchers. It was the name of a noted southern Indian tribe whose habitat when first known to Europeans was in what is now central Alabama. One of the major waterways in the state was named for this group and from this river, in turn, the name of the state was derived. The tribal name of Alabama was spelled in various ways by the early Spanish, French, and British chroniclers: Alabama, Albama, Alebamon, Alibama, Alibamou, Alibamon, Alabamu, and Allibamou. The appellation first occurs in three of the accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition of 1540: written Alibamo by Garcillasso de la Vega, Alibamu by the Knight of Elvas, and Limamu by Rodrigo Ranjel (in the last form, the initial vowel is dropped and the first m is used for b, the interchange of these two consonants being common in Indian languages). The name as recorded by these chroniclers was the name of a subdivision of the Chickasaws, not the historic Alabamas of later times.

The popular belief that Alabama signifies "Here We Rest" stems from an etymology given wide currency in the 1850s through the writings of Alexander Beauford Meek. However, the first known use of this derivation appeared earlier in an unsigned article in a July 27, 1842, issue of the Jacksonville Republican. Experts in the Muskogee dialect have been unable to find any word or phrase similar to Alabama with the meaning "Here We Rest."

According to some investigations, the tribal name Alabama must be sought in the Choctaw tongue, as it is not uncommon for tribes to accept a name given them by a neighboring tribe. Inquiry among the early Indians themselves appears to have yielded no information about the meaning of the word. The Rev. Allen Wright, a Choctaw scholar, translated the name as thicket clearers, compounded of Alba meaning "a thick or mass vegetation," and amo meaning "to clear, to collect, to gather up."

Updated: April 14, 2010

Alabama Nicknames (no official nickname)

Alabama has no official state nickname, but Alabama has been known as the "Yellowhammer State" since the Civil War. However, "The Heart of Dixie" is prevalent and reflects the central role that Alabama played in the history of the South.

Yellowhammer State

Alabama has been known as the "Yellowhammer State" since the Civil War. The yellowhammer nickname was applied to the Confederate soldiers from Alabama when a company of young cavalry soldiers from Huntsville, under the command of Rev. D.C. Kelly, arrived at Hopkinsville, KY, where Gen. Forrest's troops were stationed. The officers and men of the Huntsville company wore fine, new uniforms, whereas the soldiers who had long been on the battlefields were dressed in faded, worn uniforms. On the sleeves, collars and coattails of the new cavalry troop were bits of brilliant yellow cloth. As the company rode past Company A , Will Arnett cried out in greeting "Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, flicker, flicker!" The greeting brought a roar of laughter from the men and from that moment the Huntsville soldiers were spoken of as the "yellowhammer company." The term quickly spread throughout the Confederate Army and all Alabama troops were referred to unofficially as the "Yellowhammers."

When the Confederate Veterans in Alabama were organized they took pride in being referred to as the "Yellowhammers" and wore a yellowhammer feather in their caps or lapels during reunions.

Sources: Acts of Alabama, September 6, 1927
Alabama State Emblems, Alabama Department of Archives and History, nd.
Davis, James R. Non-Game Birds in Alabama, Wildlife Section, Game and Fish Division, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, n.d.

The Heart of Dixie

Alabama is called "The Heart of Dixie" because of the $10 notes issued by the Citizens Bank of Louisiana before the Civil War. The notes bore the French word "dix" meaning 10, and eventually the South became Dixieland, with Alabama serving as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

"The Heart of Dixie" was a phrase developed in the 1940s and 1950s by the Alabama Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber sought a more distinctive slogan for their state and promoted that "Alabama is geographically the Heart of Dixie". In 1951, with backing from the Alabama Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to add "Heart of Dixie" to automobile license plates.

Cotton State

Alabama has a central position within the cotton-growing area east of the Mississippi, which has led it to be known as the Cotton State (1844) or the Cotton Plantation State. However, this term was also applied to all the states of the area as a group. There were also many variations quoted, such as Cottondom (first seen in 1856), Cotton Belt (1871), Cotton Country (1871), and even Cottonia (1862).

Stars Fell on Alabama

"Stars Fell on Alabama" is the title of a 1934 jazz standard composed by Frank Perkins with lyrics by Mitchell Parish and made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and other artists. It also refers to an actual meteor shower that was seen across Alabama on November 12-13, 1833. Quote from then-Governor Don Siegelman: "It is my hope that this design will help send a message that stars have indeed fallen on Alabama and continue to fall on Alabama." Stars Fell on Alabama is also the title of a book by Carl Carmer.

In January 2002, the phrase "Stars Fell on Alabama" was added to Alabama's license plates, and the traditional "Heart of Dixie" slogan was reduced to a very small size. A 1951 law requires Alabama license plates to display the words "Heart of Dixie" and a conventionalized heart shape.

Lizard State

The first Alabamians were sometimes known as "lizards", which gave the state its earlier nickname of Lizard State back in 1845.

Camellia State

Occasionally, Alabama also gets the Camellia State. Camellia japonica is the state flower of Alabama

Cotton Plantation State

This term was also applied to all the states of the area as a group

Alabama Slogans

  • Share The Wonder
  • Alabama the beautiful
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Where America finds its voice. Alabama

Alabama Postal Code

  • AL

Alabama Resident's Name

  • Alabamian - Official (recommended by US GPO)
  • Alabaman - Official, unofficial or informal alternates
State Names
State Names & Nicknames

The Etymologies of US State Names