There have been a variety of Arkansas nicknames or slogans through the years.
But before we talk about the nicknames of Arkansas let’s talk about how Arkansas got its name.
How Arkansas Got Its Name
If you do any research on some of the place names in the state of Arkansas you will discover that many of them are French pronunciations of Indian Words.
The name “Arkansas” is no exception. It came from the Quapaw Indians through the French explorers.
The Quapaw were called the Akansa which meant “south wind.” The French began spelling the area Arkansas with a silent ending “S.”
This particular pronunciation preserves the memory of the Indians who were the original inhabitants of our state, while the spelling with its silent letter on the end, clearly shows the language of the French adventurers who explored this area.
Over the years there has been some dispute as to the pronunciation of the name.
In 1881, the conflict was resolved when the state General Assembly passed a resolution stating that the state’s name was to be spelled Arkansas but pronounced Arkan-saw.
What Have Been the Arkansas Nicknames Through the Years?
The state nicknames have changed frequently through the years.
Of course, in the early years the Arkansas nicknames were completely unofficial. However, for good or bad, they represented some of the primary characteristics of the state and showed how it was viewed by the rest of the country.
The Bear State
The Bear State was the earliest known of the nicknames of Arkansas. It was seen in print in 1858. This was because in the early 1800’s Arkansas was known for its population of black bears.
In fact, one of the quirky towns in the state, Oil Trough, got its name because of the huge amount of bear oil that was kept in wooden troughs. They would then ship the oil down river as far as New Orleans.
Due to overhunting and habitat alteration the bear population had been reduced to less than 50 bears by the 1950’s. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began reintroducing black bears into the area and today there are approximately 3,000 black bears in the state.
Even though the bears in Arkansas are making a come back, I suspect that the department of tourism would not be happy with a return of “the bear state” nickname.
The Bowie State and The Toothpick State
These two Arkansas Nicknames both refer to knives that were carried by the rough and tumble population.
You are probably familiar with the Bowie knife. The toothpick knife, also known as the “Arkansas knife” or an “Arkansas toothpick” is a knife with a double-edged blade coming to a point. Both are large sheath or belt knives that were very popular in the 1800’s.
The state was known for being quite violent during this time and the killing of one Arkansas state representative by another in 1837 didn’t help its reputation.
Hot Springs State and Hot Water State
Both of these Arkansas nicknames came from the numerous hot springs in the area. Hot Springs, Arkansas has been a tourist attraction for thousands of years.
Perhaps the nickname Hot Water State was a bit of a play on words what with the state’s reputation for being rough and violent.
Rackensack is perhaps the oddest of the Arkansas nicknames and nobody seems to be able to figure out exactly where it came from.
What I do know is that it wasn’t meant as a compliment.
The oxford dictionary defines it as, “having to do with Arkansas.” But it seems to have been used to mean a backwoods, hardscrabble, kind of worthless area.
However, not everyone agreed.
In the Civil War Diary of William Williston Heartsill he says in his November 26, 1861 entry “A march of 12 miles down the Arkansas River, through as fine country as I ever saw…If this is the “Rackensack” that so much fun is made of, then it is a pity that there is not more “Rackensacks” than one.”
The Diamond State
The Diamond State nickname was used after diamonds were found in Arkansas in 1906.
Arkansas still has the only active diamond mine in the country which you can visit at Crater of Diamonds State Park.
The Wonder State
The Wonder State was the first official nickname of Arkansas.
A group of businessmen called themselves The Arkansas Advancement Association were behind the effort to give the state an official (and, in their minds, better) nickname.
They felt that some of the other Arkansas nicknames weren’t giving the state the reputation that it deserved. The idea was to improve the state’s image and to attract more businesses to the area.
The Wonder State nickname was selected by the legislature in 1923.
Despite their efforts the state continued to suffer economic hardship.
The Land of Opportunity
The Land of Opportunity was what I grew up seeing on Arkansas license plates as a child.
Another group of businessmen called the Committee of 100 were intent on changing the national image of Arkansas. They began putting the phrase “land of opportunity” on their promotional materials.
The government realized that this motto that was more appealing than “The Wonder State.”
Land of opportunity became the tagline on license plates in the 1940’s and by 1953 was the official nickname of Arkansas.
The Natural State
Arkansas has 52 state parks. In the 1980’s the parks and the department of tourism began using the nickname “The Natural State” to promote Arkansas as a tourist destination.
It quickly became evident that this phrase was much more popular with the public than the “Land of Opportunity.”
The Natural State became the official Arkansas nickname in 1995 and remains so today.
Is Arkansas deserving of the nickname, the Natural State?
Absolutely! Arkansas has the Buffalo National River, 52 state park, all types of terrain from swamps to mountains, gorgeous clear lakes and so much more!
I would agree with Representative Dennis Young who ,when he introduced legislation to exchange the old nickname for the new one, cited the state’s “unsurpassed scenery, clear lakes, free-flowing streams, magnificent rivers, meandering bayous, delta bottomlands, forested mountains and abundant fish and wildlife,”
I hope that you enjoyed learning about all of the Arkansas nicknames through the years.
Another fun post that we have is this one about the songs about Arkansas.
And if you want to learn more about this magical state here is a list of the state symbols of Arkansas.
Thanks so much for stopping by!