8 North Carolina Nicknames and the Stories Behind Them

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A city skyline with a park with many trees in the foreground
Some of the nicknames of North Carolina celebrate its rich history and culture

North Carolina has an interesting history. It was the 12th state to be incorporated into the Union after the American Revolution, which resulted in secession from Great Britain and its monarch King Charles. Then, in 1861, North Carolina broke away from the Union during the Civil War.

Over the centuries since these events occurred, NC has accumulated many nicknames, and it is enlightening to learn how these came to be. For example, how did North Carolina get its nickname Tar Heel State? Or why is it described as the Land of the Sky?

To find out, take a quick read below of the interesting stories relating to eight North Carolina nicknames. In this article, you can even discover why North Carolina has two slogans on its number plates: First in Freedom and First in Flight!

8 Nicknames for North Carolina

North Carolina Nicknames Video

Check out our highlights video of North Carolina nicknames.

A statue of a man riding a horse in the middle of a fountain in a park
North Carolinians were the first Americans to declare independence from Great Britain

First in Freedom

First in Freedom is a slogan recognizing two important events in North Carolina history: on May 20, 1775, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and on April 12, 1776, the Halifax Resolves were adopted by the House of Representatives.

These dates are so significant that they are imprinted on the North Carolina state flag and the state seal. The catchphrase is a nod to North Carolina's intention to be the first to legislate freedom from Great Britain.

To commemorate the nation's 200th anniversary, in 1975, the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles unveiled a license plate designed by Charles Robinson, an amateur historian, bearing the motto "First in Freedom" headed by the two historic dates. However, the plates were not issued until January 2015 after ratification by the Senate in 2014.

First in Flight

Born and bred in Ohio, the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are memorialized in a North Carolina landmark on the Outer Banks. They are celebrated in North Carolina for achieving a significant first in aviation history.

On 17 December 1903, four miles outside of Kitty Hawk, they took turns to get the self-constructed, motor-operated 'Wright Flyer' to take flight. All four attempts raised the plane off the ground, but the final flight that day lasted 59 seconds and flew for 852 feet.

Due to this event, First in Flight has been a beloved slogan in North Carolina since 1982 and has pride of place on North Carolina license plates.

One of the North Carolina nicknames is Land of the Sky
Land of the Sky is one of the North Carolina nicknames related to its natural beauty

Land of the Sky

A North Carolina nickname perhaps only known to North Carolinians comes from the title of a book written in 1876. Prolific American author Frances Christine Fisher Tiernan called one of her 50 novels Land of the Sky.

In it, she refers to the famed Blue Ridge Mountains and the well-known Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina. As well as being known as a nickname for the state of North Carolina, the city of Asheville, which lies between the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains, also proudly refers to itself as the Land of the Sky.

Tar Heel State

North Carolina boasts large areas of longleaf pine forests, which were mined for turpentine, tar, and many other resources. The state produced the world's largest amounts of these products from the early 1700s to the late 1800s. The North Carolina troops who were part of the Confederates locked onto the nickname Tar Heel and Rosin Heel.

After the American Civil War ended, a North Carolina state nickname was born when the citizens proudly claimed the Tar Heel State moniker as its own, and it has stuck. Furthermore, the intercollegiate athletics teams representing the University of North Carolina are called the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The Rip Van Winkle State

The Rip Van Winkle State is likely a nickname that the North Carolina citizens would rather forget. As the legend goes, Rip Van Winkle was in a deep sleep for a century. For around 20 years, beginning in 1815, North Carolina seemed to be in a similar state.

It lacked the will to develop its infrastructure, build seaports to enable foreign trading, and could not initiate profitable manufacturing enterprises. The Democrat-controlled state suffered from crippling apathy and preferred to slumber on.

The nickname is attributed to a farmer who wrote to The North Carolina Farmer expressing his wish that North Carolina would awake from its "Rip Van Winkle agricultural sleep." Fortunately, constitutional reforms made in 1835 saw the start of incredible development and growth, which continues to this day. But the nickname has stuck.

A wooden house and port by a calm body of water near a tree
The first British settlements in Roanake were described as The Goodliest Land

The Goodliest Land

This moniker encompasses Virginia and the Carolinas (North and South). The name "Carolana" or the "land of Charles," which later changed to Carolina, has been attributed to the British Monarch King Charles I.

In 1585, a gentleman named Ralph Lane wrote a lyrical description in a letter about Virginia, which then included North Carolina. He glowingly described the "unexplored beauty" of the state with a "wholesome and pleasant" climate.

The citizens of North Carolina are immensely proud to have their state described in the letter as "the goodliest soil under the cope of Heaven," and not many likely disagree with the description! This phrasing over time developed into the simpler moniker, the Goodliest Land.

Turpentine State

In 1855, North Carolina was known primarily for its use and export of turpentine extracted from the prolific pine forests. In the flourishing trading environment, many ships arrived daily at the ports laden with trading merchandise.

Essential to ensuring the hulls of sailing ships were maintained in a watertight condition were spirits of turpentine, tar, and rosin, referred to as naval stores. North Carolina furnished the world's need for these commodities at the time and gained the NC state nickname the Turpentine State.

The Old North State

The Old North State is another nickname for North Carolina. In the early 1700s, Carolina was divided into South and North Carolina, the latter being more settled for longer. Hence it is accurately called the Old North State.

Not only is it a beloved nickname, but it's also a state toast and an interesting North Carolina fact is that it's the name of the state song as well. The latter was written in 1835 by Supreme Court Justice William Gaston and publicly performed at a Whig Party mass meeting in 1840. It took nearly a century to be adopted as the official state song in 1927.


Now that you have read the article, you have been given a small taste of the history of North Carolina nicknames and slogans. It also gives you a good starting point to read further accounts of how these monikers came to be widely known and used by the citizens of North Carolina to refer to their beloved state.

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Written by Audrey Wilson

AudreyMW FORMER WRITER Born and living in South Africa, Audrey has lived in four countries extensively and traveled to many others across the globe. Travel is in her blood, and she plans to see more of the world.

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