Wisconsin State Names (Etymology of Names)

Wisconsin Name Origin and State Nicknames

Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States, in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin is the 23rd state by total area and the 20th most populous.

Few basic facts about Wisconsin have caused as much confusion or  thinking as the origin of its name.  Wisconsin is from an Indian word, but the origin is uncertain. It is perhaps an Algonquian Indian word that means "long river," a Chippewa/Ojibwa/Anishinabe word, "Ouisconsin," that means "grassy place," or "gathering of the waters."  With a certain degree of  confident Wisconsin state's name, supported by geological evidence, means "river running through a red place."

Wisconsin Nicknames

  • Badger State
  • Dairy State
  • America's Dairyland
  • America's Bread Basket
  • Cheese State
  • The Copper State

Origin of Wisconsin State Name

Wisconsin: 'River Running Through A Red Place'

 "Wisconsin" (originally "Meskonsing") is the English spelling of a French version of a Miami Indian name for a river that runs 430 miles through the center of our state, currently known as the Wisconsin River. Recent scholarship has concluded that in Miami it meant, "this stream meanders through something red." In 2003, historical linguist Michael McCafferty convincingly argued that this was a reference to the red sandstone bluffs of the Wisconsin Dells.

French corruption of an Indian word whose meaning is disputed

This state was named after the Wisconsin River. Wisconsin means "grassy place" in the Chippewa language.

Marquette [Jacques Marquette, who explored the area with Louis Jolliet] was a fine mapmaker; and he drew maps of their journey. All of the explorers wrote down the many things they learned. They wrote down the names they heard. One Indian word they heard was miskousing. This spelling was later corrupted to Ouisconsin by other French explorers, and over time this version became the French name for both the Wisconsin River and the surrounding lands. English speakers anglicized the spelling to its modern form when they began to arrive in greater numbers during the early 19th Century. The current spelling was made official by the legislature of Wisconsin Territory in 1845.

Through the course of its many variations, the Algonquian source word for Wisconsin, together with its original meaning, have grown obscure. However, a leading theory holds that the name originated from the Miami word Meskonsing, meaning "it lies red", a reference to the setting of the Wisconsin River as it flows by the reddish sandstone of the Wisconsin Dells. Numerous other theories have also been widely publicized, including claims that name originated from one of a variety of Ojibwa words meaning "red stone place," "gathering of the waters," or "great rock.

See Historical Essay Wisconsin's Name: Where it Came From and What it Means  
Source: Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Nicknames

Badger State

Early lead miners who spent so much time digging in the ground. The badger has been closely associated with Wisconsin since territorial days, it was not declared the official state animal until 1957. Over the years its likeness had been incorporated in the state coat of arms, the seal, the flag and even State Capitol architecture, as well as being immortalized in the song "On, Wisconsin!" ("Grand old badger state!") The badger was adopted as Wisconsin's state animal in 1957.

The Dairy State

A more fitting nickname for Wisconsin, "The Dairy State" is in direct reference to the large production of dairy products, particularly cheese and butter, in the state.

America's Dairyland

Another reflection of Wisconsin's dairy production and a phrase that appears on Wisconsin state license plates.

Cheese State

But Wisconsin is predominantly a dairy state, producing 40% of the country's cheese, and 20% of its butter - not surprisingly, then, the state is sometimes nicknamed the Dairy State, America's Dairyland (which is how it appears on license plates) or even the Cheese State.

The Copper State

This nickname is in reference to the Copper mines in the northern part of the state.


Wisconsin Slogans

  • Stay Just a Little Bit Longer
  • America's Dairyland (on its license plate)

Wisconsin Postal Code

  • WI

Wisconsin Resident's Name

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

The Etymologies of US State Names