If you’ve always wanted to know more about Alaska, especially its nicknames over the years, you’re in the right place.
Originally controlled by Russia from the late 1700s until 1867, Alaska was purchased by the U.S. Secretary of State William Seward for $7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. With a total area of 663,268 square miles, it is by far the largest U.S. state—more than double the size of Texas’s next largest State.
Alaska is home to more than 3,000 rivers and 3,000,000 lakes. The largest of these is Lake Iliamna, which ranks as the eighth-largest lake by area in the U.S., and is home to various marine wildlife.
Did you know that the Alaska Earthquake Center reported more than 150,000 earthquakes between 2014 and 2020, with 31 having magnitudes of six or higher? Of the eight strongest earthquakes ever recorded globally, three have occurred in Alaska. While these statistics appear intimidating, most of these quakes occur in unpopulated areas or are minute and, thus, non-threatening.
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Famous Nicknames for Alaska
Let’s get on with the rest of the article by providing you with a list of 12 nicknames for Alaska.
1. The Last Frontier
Alaska’s most popular nickname is “The Last Frontier.” It is so named because it was admitted as the 49th State to the Union, coupled with its distance from the lower 48 states and its rugged landscape and climate. Alaska presents itself as having opportunities, evidenced by it being lightly inhabited, with only about one-third of the State organized into political units.
2. Land of the Midnight Sun
Although the moniker “Land of the Midnight Sun” isn’t peculiar to Alaska, with Norway also laying claim to it, Alaska earns the nickname because it is subject to long summer days as it is located near the top half of the northern hemisphere. As the Earth rotates, the northern hemisphere, specifically Alaska, remains facing the sun, creating nearly 24 hours of daylight, which manifests in interesting phenomena like seeing the sun at midnight.
3. Seward’s Folly
On March 30, 1867, the U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for 7.2 million dollars. Critics attacked Seward for the secrecy surrounding the deal, which came to be known as “Seward’s Folly.” However, the discovery of gold in the late 1890s increased Alaska’s value as a U.S. possession and boosted its population. In 1912, the region was granted territorial status.
4. Seward’s Icebox
Just like in the previous entry, “Seward’s Icebox” came about as a derisive nickname for Alaska by the media and the United States Congress, who battled William Seward over its purchase from Russia. Other satirical names given for Alaska included “Icebergia,” “Polaria,” and “Walrussia.” Critics of the purchase also mocked the then President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, by referring to Alaska as “Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden.”
5. The Great Land
Alaska’s name is derived from the Aleut word “alaxsxaq,” meaning “The Mainland” or, more literally, “the object towards which the action of the sea is directed.” It is also known as “Alyeska,” which translates to “Great Land,” an Aleut word derived from the same root.
6. Russian America
According to the New York Times, the origin of “Russian America” began in 1741, when a Danish navigator working for the Russian Empire sighted the Alaskan coastline. Tiny permanent settlements sprouted across Alaska in the 1780s, with explorers claiming immense territory for Catherine the Great. Russian-Orthodox missionaries fanned out into the wilderness to convert the native population to Christianity, and soon enough, the domain called Russian America took shape.
7. The Sourdough State
A “sourdough” is primarily a nickname used in the North (Yukon/Alaska) for someone having spent an entire winter north of the Arctic Circle. It refers to their tradition of protecting their sourdough starter during the coldest months by keeping it close to their body. Being called a “sourdough” remains an honorific title in Alaska and is a term that refers to certain residents based on how long they’ve lived there.
8. The North Star State
“The North Star State” is a nickname that Alaska shares with Minnesota. The name is derived from its flag, which consists of a blue field for the sky and the forget-me-not, the state flower; the North Star which represents the future of the State of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union; and the dipper representing the Great Bear, symbolizing strength.
9. 49th State
Considered to be Alaska’s official nickname in some quarters, the “49th State” is an obvious reference to its position as the 49th State to be admitted into the Union on January 4, 1959.
10. Territory of Baranov
Aleksandr Andreyevich Baranov was a trader who became the first Governor of Russian America and ruled Alaska. Baranov established the Russian American Company and, in 1799, was granted a monopoly over Alaska. As a result, Alaska became known as the “Territory of Baranov.”
11. The Mainland
the literal meaning of the word as coined from the Aleut word for Alaska, “alaxsxaq.”
12. Up Over
“Up Over” jokingly references Australia and New Zealand’s moniker as “Down Under” because the two countries are located in the Southern Hemisphere, ‘below’ many other countries on the globe, unlike Alaska, which is above the Northern Hemisphere.
There you have it. What other Alaska nicknames have we omitted? Let us know in the comments below.