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Why Is Minnesota Called the North Star State?

Minnesota's moniker, the North Star State, reflects its position as a guiding light in the Union, symbolizing its northern location and the state's history of leadership in social, economic, and cultural endeavors. Discover how this celestial emblem became synonymous with Minnesota's identity and what it reveals about the state's pioneering spirit. What other secrets does the North Star State hold? Continue reading to uncover more.
Rebecca Mecomber
Rebecca Mecomber

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.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

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."

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of Minnesota's nickname, "The North Star State"?

Minnesota's nickname, "The North Star State," originates from the French motto "L'Étoile du Nord," which means "The Star of the North." This motto was adopted to reflect Minnesota's position as the northernmost state in the contiguous United States at the time of its statehood in 1858. The North Star, also known as Polaris, symbolizes guidance and steadfastness, qualities that Minnesotans pride themselves on.

How does the North Star relate to Minnesota's history and culture?

The North Star has been a guiding symbol for explorers and travelers, much like the early settlers and Native American tribes in Minnesota who relied on celestial navigation. This symbol of guidance and constancy is woven into the state's culture, representing the pioneering spirit and resilience of its people. It also reflects Minnesota's geographic location, with the state being a northern point of reference in the United States.

Is the North Star depicted on Minnesota's state symbols?

Yes, the North Star is prominently featured on Minnesota's state symbols. It is depicted on the state flag, where the star shines above the state motto on a blue background, symbolizing Minnesota's place as the "Star of the North." The state seal also includes the North Star, reinforcing its significance as a symbol of Minnesota's identity and heritage.

What role does the North Star play in Minnesota's state government and branding?

The North Star plays a central role in Minnesota's state government and branding. The state's official website and many government resources are branded with the North Star, emphasizing Minnesota's commitment to being a guiding light in governance, innovation, and community. This branding reinforces the state's identity and serves as a reminder of its guiding principles and northern heritage.

Are there any annual events or festivals in Minnesota that celebrate the North Star?

While there may not be specific festivals dedicated solely to celebrating the North Star, Minnesota hosts numerous events throughout the year that pay homage to the state's heritage and natural beauty, such as the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the Star of the North Games. These events, along with the state's emphasis on outdoor activities like stargazing in its many parks, reflect the importance of the North Star in Minnesota's cultural life.

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Discussion Comments


@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.


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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