A little more than a decade after Indiana joined the Union on December 11, 1816, newspapers began to refer to the residents of the newly admitted state as “Hoosiers.” (Alternate spellings included “Hooshers” and “Hooshores.”) The unusual nickname appeared in print as early as 1832 and gained popular usage the following year after publication of Indiana resident John Finley’s poem “The Hoosier’s Nest.” It appears the term, like “Yankee,” was first used mockingly before it was adopted by Indiana residents with pride. The Pittsburg Statesman reported in the summer of 1833 that Indiana’s citizens had “been called Hoosiers for some time past at home and abroad, sometimes honorably and sometimes the reverse.”
According to the Indiana Historical Bureau, the exact origin of the state’s official demonym is unknown, but there are several theories. One is that a contractor named Samuel Hoosier preferred to hire laborers from Indiana rather than neighboring Kentucky to construct the Louisville and Portland Canal along the Ohio River in the 1820s. The Indiana workers were called “Hoosier’s men,” later shortened to “Hoosiers.” No record of a Hoosier or a similar name can be found in canal records, however.
The 1833 Pittsburg Statesman article gave an alternate etymology, positing that the word sprang from surveyors mapping the state who encountered so many squatters on public land that they would call out “Who’s here?” as soon as they spotted cabins with smoke rising from them. The question echoed so frequently on the Indiana frontier that it was shortened and altered to “hooshere” and finally “hoosier.” Perhaps the most plausible theory was put forward by historian Jacob Piatt Dunn Jr. in his 1907 book “The Word Hoosier.” Noting that numerous immigrants from the Cumberland region of England settled in the southern mountains of Indiana, Dunn traced the nickname for those highland dwellers back to the word “hoozer” in the Cumbrian dialect, which derived from the Old English “hoo,” meaning “high” and “hill.”