Towards the end of 2015 I posted State Nickname Streets, which was exactly what it sounded like, a compendium of at least one street named in each state for its official nickname. I supposed it must have stuck in my subconscious because the notion returned. This time, however, I fixated on a several different sets of objects bearing state nicknames. The list on Wikipedia came in handy again although I expanded it a bit. Unofficial nicknames were fine this time.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building NYC, NY by Roger on Flickr (cc)
The Empire State Building brought everything to a head and sparked a search for more examples. New York, of course, was the Empire State. The iconic art deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan drew upon this nickname to create a parallel with the greatness of the city and the state where it located (map). It amazed architects and art aficionados alike when it opened in 1931, rising more than 1,400 feet from street to spire, climbing 102 stories above Fifth Avenue. It remained the tallest building in the world for the next four decades. The Empire State Building became a beloved symbol, a stand-in for New York City itself in thousands of cultural references. Who could ever forget, for example, King Kong swatting airplanes from atop the building at the climax of the 1933 movie?
Oddly, nobody knew exactly how or why or when New York came to be known as the Empire State. The New York Historical Society offered one plausible theory,
Signs commonly point to George Washington. Although other, unsubstantiated stories crediting Washington exist, the best documented source is a 1785 thank-you letter to the New York Common Council for bestowing upon him the Freedom of the City. In addition to praising New York’s resilience in the war he describes the State of New York as "the Seat of the Empire."
Other sources pointed more generally to abundant natural resources found throughout New York and concentrations of wealth and capital that emerged there in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Apparently that qualified it as an Empire, at least as a nickname. The history was murky.
Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University by withvengeance86 on Flickr (cc)
The Commonwealth of Virginia designated an entire public university to carry its nickname, Old Dominion University in Norfolk. It began originally as a satellite campus of the College of William & Mary and grew from there, splitting-off and gaining independence along with its new name in 1962 (map). Now ODU has nearly twenty-five thousand students — about three times as many as its parent.
The origin of Virginia’s nickname, alas like New York, seemed shrouded in history. The Library of Virginia did its best to provide an explanation.
While this name clearly refers to Virginia’s status as England’s oldest colony in the Americas, it is impossible to trace the origin of the term with precision. In 1660 Charles II acknowledged a gift of silk from "our auntient dominion of Virginia."… As early as 1699, the phrase "most Ancient Colloney and Dominion" appeared in official state documents.
There was also a body of mythology and speculation commonly mentioned on other websites that tied the nickname to an era when Virginia supported Charles II during the English Civil War. The name purportedly referenced the Commonwealth’s loyalty to the monarch.
I wasn’t able to find any other universities named directly for their state nicknames although I didn’t search exhaustively either. Maryland came close. It was the Free State among other nicknames, and I did find a University of the Free State, however it was in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (map). Maybe the 12MC audience would know of others.
Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors by Florent Lamoureux on Flickr (cc)
There might have been few universities directly carrying the responsibility of a state nickname, however there were plenty of schools that used nicknames (official and unofficial) to represent their sports teams. Very quickly, I came up with Arkansas Razorbacks, Delaware Blue Hens, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon State Beavers, Tennessee Volunteers, Wisconsin Badgers, and Wyoming Cowboys.
It wasn’t clear to me which came first in many cases, the sports team names or the state nicknames. Did the state gain a nickname from the university’s sports team or did the team honor an existing state nickname? Sure, there were Hoosiers in Indiana (at least as early as 1827) before Indiana University began intercollegiate football (1887). What about gophers or beavers or badgers, though?
Professional basketball provided a great instance of a team appropriating a state nickname to cover a large geographic footprint, the Golden State Warriors. While based at Oracle Arena in Oakland (map) Golden State laid claim to the entirety of California. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, and the Sacramento Kings might have begged to differ.
Old Dominion University’s sports name, by the way, was The Monarchs. They missed a great opportunity to grab the sole double-nickname, Old Dominion Dominions.
The Commercial World
Midnight Sun Brewing Company; Anchorage, Alaska — my own photo
Literally hundreds of business, primarily small ones, adopted state nicknames to represent their companies or specific brand names. I thought of a couple of pretty large ones too. The first one that came to mind was Quaker State Motor Oil. This brand actually dated all the way back to 1859, arising during the Pennsylvania Oil Boom in the state where the U.S. petroleum industry got its initial start. The brand was developed for "petroleum products to lubricate steam engines, machinery and wagons." It’s now part of Royal Dutch Shell. I also thought of Lone Star Beer, a brand dating back to 1884. It’s still brewed in Texas although currently owned by Pabst Brewing Co. and produced under contract at a Miller Brewing Company facility in Fort Worth.