Indiana is “The Hoosier State.”
But does that need to be an official nickname? State Rep. J.D. Prescott, a Republican from Union City, thinks so. He proposed a bill at the start of the Indiana General Assembly session to cement the moniker.
Prescott initially wanted to memorialize Black circuit preacher Harry Hoosier but then realized Indiana had never been officially designated by the legislature as “The Hoosier State.”
Hoosier the circuit rider is certainly someone to admire. Born about 1750 and illiterate, he traveled mostly along the East Coast with Methodist Episcopal Bishop Francis Asbury. Hoosier (many biographers spell it Hosier) memorized scripture and preached to Blacks as Asbury sermonized to white congregations.
Hoosier died in May 1806, some 30 years before the descriptor “Hoosier” for Indiana denizens began appearing in newspaper articles and documents.
It is believed that he never set foot in the land that in 1816 would become Indiana. However, if one believes in the Harry Hoosier link, there’s evidence that the nickname might have been a derogatory way of referring to rural Indianans.
Prescott’s House Bill 1143 quickly turned into the silliest idea this year. It died in the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee — essentially as a hearing was underway.
Too many historians brought up enough reasons to discredit the idea: The preacher had no Indiana ties. Why base this bill on an unproven rumor? Would the nickname be trademarked?
Various states have different approaches to promoting themselves. Some have officially adopted nicknames.
Hawaii state law actually reads: “The name ‘The Aloha State’ is adopted, established, and designated as the official ‘popular’ name for the State, to be effective so long as the legislature of the State does not otherwise provide.”
The Illinois legislature adopted “Land of Lincoln” in 1955 for license plates. Congress granted Illinois the copyright for exclusive use of the slogan.
The Florida legislature designated “The Sunshine State” as the official state name in 1970.
Oregon chose the beaver as the official state animal but has not adopted “The Beaver State” as its official slogan.
“Virginia is for Lovers” is trademarked for tourism purposes only. Also trademarked is the yellow spongy hat worn by Wisconsin’s cheese heads.
But “Hoosier?” Is it a derivative of the native Indian word “hoosa” for corn? Was it from John Finley’s 1866 poem about Indiana, “The Hoosier’s Nest?” Did someone knock on a cabin door and ask “Who’s thar?”
We don’t need an “official” nickname. We’re too unassuming and homespun for that formality. We’re proud of simply being “Hoosiers.”
It’s time to quote Anita Morgan, a history lecturer at IUPUI, who underscored the dilemma to the House committee: ”We all have our favorite idea of where this name comes from, but I think in the end it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It’s our name. It’s who we are.
“It’s probably a mixture of a lot of things that it comes from but not from this amazing man who died 30 years before it became common usage in this state.”
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson