Missouri State Names (Etymology of Names)

Missouri Name Origin and State Nicknames

Missouri is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. Missouri is the 21st most extensive and the 18th most populous of the 50 United States. Missouri borders eight different states, as does its neighbor, Tennessee. No state in the U.S. touches more than eight states. Missouri is bounded on the north by Iowa; on the east, across the Mississippi River, by Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee; on the south by Arkansas; and on the west by Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska (the last across the Missouri River).

Missouri was named for an Algonquian Indian word that means "river of the big canoes." 

Missouri Nicknames

  • Show-Me State
  • Bullion State
  • Iron Mountain State
  • Lead State
  • Cave State
  • Puke State
  • Ozark State
  • Pennsylvania of the West.
  • Mother of the West

Origin of Missouri State Name

Missouri gets its name from a tribe of Sioux Indians of the state called the Missouris. The word "Missouri" often has been construed to mean "muddy water" but the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology has stated it means "town of the large canoes," and authorities have said the Indian syllables from which the word comes mean "wooden canoe people" or "he of the big canoe."

Missouri Nicknames

There are a number of stories and legends behind Missouri's sobriquet "Show-Me" state. The slogan is not official, but is common throughout the state and is used on Missouri license plates.

Show-Me State

There are a number of stories and legends behind Missouri's sobriquet "Show-Me" state.

The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Missouri's US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the US House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia. In a speech there, he 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." Regardless of whether Vandiver coined the phrase, it is certain that his speech helped to popularize the saying.

Other versions of the "Show-Me" legend place the slogan's origin in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. There, the phrase was first employed as a term of ridicule and reproach. A miner's strike had been in progress for some time in the mid-1890s, and a number of miners from the lead districts of southwest Missouri had been imported to take the places of the strikers. The Joplin miners were unfamiliar with Colorado mining methods and required frequent instructions. Pit bosses began saying, "That man is from Missouri. You'll have to show him."

However the slogan originated, it has since passed into a different meaning entirely, and is now used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, noncredulous character of Missourians.

Rossiter, Phyllis. "I'm from Missouri--you'll have to show me." Rural Missouri, Volume 42, Number 3, March 1989, page 16.

Official Manual of the State of Missouri, 1979-1980, page 1486.

Iron Mountain State

Attributed to politician Thomas Hart Benton, an advocate of hard money, or gold and silver. This nickname comes from Iron Mountain, so named because of the very large veins of iron ore that were found there.

Missouri Bootheel

The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri and is called the "Bootheel" because of the shape of its boundaries. Strictly speaking, it is composed of the counties of Dunklin, New Madrid, and Pemiscot, but the term is sometimes broadly used to refer to the entire southeastern corner of the state.

The Cave State

This nickname references the thousands of caves found in Missouri. Over 5,600 caves have been registered and more are discovered each year. At least 20 of these caves are public "show" caves. Show caves are open to the public with guided tours.

Lead State

Missouri's lead production has been second to none in this country. The "Old Lead Belt," located in the eastern Ozark Mountains helped Missouri achieve its status as the premier lead mining area of the world. Cities named Leadington, River Mines, Old Mines and Leadwood reflect the influence of lead mining in Missouri. Missouri's official State Mineral is Galena, a major source of lead ore.

The Bullion State

Attributed to politician Thomas Hart Benton, an advocate of hard money, or gold and silver. The first Missouri Senator, Mr. Benton was elected for five terms becoming the first man to serve 30 years in the U.S. Senate. Senator Benton steadfastly supported hard currency; gold and silver. Because of his opposition to banks and paper money, a political stance against monopolies and "eastern capitalists," he was popularly known as "Old Bullion."

Ozark State

Missouri has been called "The Ozark State" because of the Ozark Mountains.

Mother of the West

This name and "The Gateway to the West" have been used to refer to Missouri's location and its historical base for western expansion. The Oregon and Santa Fe trails both begin in Missouri. The Pony Express and the Butterfield Overland Mail Route both originated in Missouri. The 630 foot Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, pays tribute to Missouri's role in westward expansion.

Puke State

This distasteful name is said to refer to the large gathering of Missourians in 1827 at the Galena Lead Mines. According to George Earlie Shankle, PhD, inState Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols, 1938, "...so many Missourians had assembled, that those already there declared the State of Missouri had taken a 'puke.'" (possibly a corruption of "Pike")

 Pennsylvania of the West

This name may have originated because of the similarity of Missouri's and Pennsylvania's mining and manufacturing economies.

Missouri Slogans

  • Where the Rivers Run

Missouri Postal Code

  • MO

Missouri Resident's Name

  • Missourian - Official (recommended by US GPO)
State Names
State Names & Nicknames

The Etymologies of US State Names