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."