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Why Is Minnesota Called the North Star State?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state nickname for the state of Minnesota is the "North Star State." This is the English translation and most frequently used translation for the official French L’Etoile du Nord that appears on other Minnesota state emblems — the seal and the state flag. Minnesota is the only U.S. state to have a motto in French. While the reason for this is not clearly known, most historians speculate that the choice of the French language is a deferential nod to the early French explorers, missionaries and traders who settled the wilds of Minnesota before the region became a territory and a U.S. state. The "North Star State" motto refers to Minnesota as the northernmost state in the United States.

Minnesota sits north of all the contiguous U.S. states, its right border extending toward the Great Lake Superior. Native American tribes populated the land until the arrival of traders and missionaries from France and explorers from England in the 1600s. After the American War for Independence, a portion of the territory was incorporated into the United States of America. Minnesota became the 32nd state to join the United States in 1858.

As a new, official state of the Union, a state seal was required for the signing and notarizing of government documents and bills. Governor Henry Sibley designed the new seal, originally engraving a Latin phrase: Quae sursum volo videre, or "I want to see above." Due to an error during the engraving process, the Latin phrase was altered to read Quo sursum velo videre, a nonsensical phrase that loosely translated, meant "I cover to see above." The Minnesota Legislature, not willing to officialize an erroneous state seal, rejected the motto. Governor Sibley recreated the phrase, choosing French as the preferred language. L’Etoile du Nord, or the "North Star State" was passed and adopted by the Minnesota Legislature in 1861.

The state seal and flag are rich with significant state symbols that draw out the history of Minnesota and the meaning of the state motto. A shoeless farmer tills the fertile Minnesota land near the banks of the Mississippi River. A Native America rides a pony toward the setting sun. L’Etoile du Nord floats on a golden banner above the scene. The state flag reflects the scene of the seal but is also surrounded by 19 stars, representing Minnesota as the 19th state in the Union. The largest, topmost star on the flag stands for the L’Etoile du Nord, or North Star, as the official "North Star State."

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Discussion Comments
By Ocelot60 — On Oct 16, 2014

@spotiche5- First of all, you need to write down all of the different nicknames of each state beside each state's name. This will provide a visual cue for learning.

Next, write down a unique reason for each nickname, and why it is fitting. This will help you nephew make the association of each state and its nickname so it will stimulate his memory when he takes his test.

Finally, test him verbally on each state's nickname by asking him to name them. Over time, he will learn them. Seeing them, learning the reasons behind the nicknames, and being quizzed on them before his test will be helpful in leaving a lasting imprint on his memory.

By Spotiche5 — On Oct 15, 2014

I'm trying to help my nephew learn about state nicknames, including that of his home state of Minnesota. After reading this article, I got some good ideas for helping him remember his own state's motto, such as its location in the north part of the country.

I'm looking for some ideas to help my nephew remember the nicknames of other states. He will have to know them for a test, so it's important that he learn them.

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