7 Illinois Nicknames That Will Surprise You

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A city skyline near a park with trees and a lake in the foreground
Illinois' mix of urban and rural culture influenced many nicknames

Illinois is a territory with a lot to offer. It's home to a mix of thriving farmland and one of the country's biggest cities, which allow it to maintain a diverse state identity.

One of the best ways to get to know the state a little better is to learn the history behind the most iconic Illinois nicknames. While the Land of Lincoln and the Prairie State are widely used and recognized, there are multiple other monikers that are a little more obscure.

To learn a little more about the state's history and evolution, here's a list of the top seven monikers you're likely to hear around Illinois.

7 Nicknames for Illinois

Illinois Nicknames Video

Check out our highlights video of Illinois nicknames.

Colorful tulips in a landscaped garden with skyscrapers in the background
Some Illinois nicknames, like Inland Empire State, have been around for centuries

Inland Empire State

The Inland Empire State was once a popular Illinois nickname. No one is quite sure who coined the term, but it likely started sometime around 1870. By this point, Chicago had become the second-largest city in the country after New York.

In the 200 years between the territory's founding by the explorer René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de la Salle and the end of the turn of the 20th century, Chicago's population exploded. This caused the city, and thus the state's industries, to grow as well.

Today, the nickname isn't used very often. Usually, only history lovers are aware of it. However, you can occasionally find Illinois referenced as the Inland Empire State in textbooks.

Land of Lincoln

Nearly everyone is aware that the state of Illinois is referred to as the Land of Lincoln. This moniker is historical in nature, deriving from Abraham Lincoln calling the state home between 1830 and 1861.

Though Kentucky can claim to be the birth state of the 16th president, he moved to Illinois to pursue his career in law. It's in Illinois where he got into politics as well, serving as a party leader and congressman before making the leap to the White House.

Land of Lincoln is the nickname Illinois residents are most proud of. For that reason, you can find it on license plates, the 2003 collectible state quarter, and numerous other souvenir items. You can also find many Illinois landmarks related to Lincoln, like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

A field of yellow flowers with trees in the distance under a blue sky
Illinois is dubbed the Prairie State due to its stunning and fertile landscapes

The Prairie State

Some people may not be aware that the Prairie State was once the official Illinois state nickname. This moniker comes from the state's landscape, made up largely of flat, fertile land where plants thrive.

The native Illinois prairies are part of what drew people to the area. In fact, it was the first settlers that gave the territory this moniker. However, despite its popularity, many people are unaware of this particular Illinois fact.

Though much of the state's literature has adopted the more widely-known Land of Lincoln moniker, you can still see the Prairie State on tourism information. That's particularly true in the northern parts of the state, where prairie land is still common.

The Sucker State

It may be a humorous moniker, but Illinois was once commonly referred to as the Sucker State, particularly in Midwestern territories. There are a few origins for this particular nickname, all of which are related to Illinois' nature.

The first theory derives from the frontier practice of collecting water by using reeds to suck water out of catfish holes. The second, instead, refers to Illinois' part in the tobacco industry. Tobacco plant stems often grow secondary sprouts, called "suckers," because they monopolize all the nutrients if they're not clipped.

The final theory comes from the led deposits of Galena, Illinois. When word of mining opportunities got out, droves of people began to migrate to the state, following the same pattern as the sucker fish. Today, this nickname isn't very well-known among non-historians. However, you can still find the moniker in some historic texts from time to time.

A dirt road surrounded by corn fields near silos
Illinois produces a lot of corn, alongside other states in the American Corn Belt

The Corn State

The Corn State may not be the most common title for Illinois, but it's one of the most relevant. This moniker is due to its place in the American Corn Belt alongside other states, like Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas.

In fact, 11 million acres of land are dedicated to growing corn in Illinois. It routinely ranks in the top four states in the country for the production of this particular crop.

Though agriculture is a large part of Illinois' economy and culture, this particular nickname isn't used in any official state literature. You can sometimes find it on souvenir items, and its position at the forefront of this industry can be tracked via annual national agriculture reports.

The Heartland

The Heartland is often used to refer to the entire Midwest, but it's also occasionally used as a specifically Illinois name. This moniker refers to how widespread the agricultural industry is in this part of the country. Over the years, the lush prairie grass that originally covered much of the state has given way to fertile farmland.

The Heartland also refers to the rustic, traditional roots that can be found in Midwestern small towns. This particular term can be traced back to the mid-1900s. Since then, it's been used in multiple songs, books, and historical texts. Even today, the Illinois library system has adopted it.

The Garden of the West is one of the Illinois nicknames
Illinois is known as the Garden of the West for its rich agricultural industry

The Garden of the West

Illinois' rich agricultural industry has helped it earn the nickname the Garden of the West. The state's hills and fertile soil allow a plethora of crops to thrive in the territory. Corn and soybeans are, in fact, two of the state's most important exports to the rest of the country.

This nickname is one of the state's older monikers that's since fallen into disuse. In addition, it was also occasionally referred to as the Garden State before that title went on to refer to New Jersey instead. It's rarely used today, but if you're a history lover, you might find it in older literary and historical texts. It's also sometimes used on souvenir items.

In Summary

Illinois' diverse history has prompted the creation of various nicknames, from being considered the Heartland to its once being called the Sucker State. Hopefully, this list of monikers has helped you get to know this great Midwestern state a little better. Now you just have to decide which nickname for Illinois you want to use first!

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Written by Gabrielle T

ggtraveler1213 FORMER WRITER Gabrielle loves all things travel and culture. She is originally from the USA, but she has lived in Italy for over a decade. She's always ready to pack her bags, grab her passport, and head out on an adventure!

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