Who's a Hoosier? Are You a Hoosier? Not If You're Not From Indiana

Updated May 20, 2022
Indiana State's Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle
    Indiana State's Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle
    Sir Francis Canker Photography / Moment / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

If you're from California, you're a Californian. If you're from Wisconsin, you're a Wisconsinite. But if you're from Indiana, you're a Hoosier through and through! Natives of Indiana wear this curious-sounding nickname with unmatched pride, even if they, like everyone else, aren't exactly sure what it means.

Hoosiers: Exclusive to Club Indiana

If your only knowledge of the word Hoosier (pronounced HOO-zhure) is from watching college sports, you're probably not a Hoosier yourself. The term for "Indiana resident" came about in the early 19th century and has been in steady use since then. It's even a federal government-approved term — Hoosier is the only non-state-name-based nationality that's recognized by the Government Publishing Office style guide!


Who's a Hoosier?

Only people from Indiana are Hoosiers — and all people from Indiana are Hoosiers. You may be a Hoosier if:

  • you were born in Indiana and still live there

  • you were born in Indiana and moved away when you went to college

  • you were born in Indiana and moved away when you were a baby

  • you moved to Indiana as a child and still live there

  • you moved to Indiana last week and still live there

  • you lived in Indiana for a significant amount of time at any time in your life

  • you ever lived in Indiana and went on to do something great, such as become president, win a national championship in professional sports or publish a Great American Novel

As you can see, Hoosier culture is all-inclusive if you were born there or currently live there. But if you're just there to watch the Indy 500 or to tour Purdue University, try not to call yourself a Hoosier just yet.


What Does Hoosier Mean, Anyway?

The absolute, definitive meaning of Hoosier is ... well, here's the thing. No one really knows why people from Indiana are called Hoosiers, and many people can't even agree on what Hoosier means. But there are plenty of theories — and one of them might just be right!

Samuel Hoosier

In the 1820s, a few years before the term Hoosier became commonplace in Indiana, a contractor named Samuel Hoosier reportedly hired an entire team of Indiana-based laborers to build canals along the Ohio River. The team was then known as "Hoosier's men," and later, just "Hoosiers." It would be a perfect explanation for Hoosier — if only there was evidence of a Samuel Hoosier ever working on a canal in Indiana.


Who's Yere

One popular folk theory for the origin of Hoosier is the greeting of Indiana settlers upon hearing a knock at the door: "Who's yere (who's here)?" Say it fast, and it sounds quite a lot like Hoosier. But this theory doesn't have much traction, since there's not much evidence to support that this greeting was a typical one for Indiana.

Hoosa Men

Others believe that Hoosier comes from the term "Hoosa men," a term for Indiana flat boatmen who transported corn (supposedly called hoosa in a local native language) throughout the state, making them "hoosa men." However, this theory has largely been debunked, as there is no native language that includes the word hoosa at all.


The word Hoosier sounds sort of French (if you don't really know French). In fact, some believe that the word comes from Houssieres, a French surname. But alas, this theory also doesn't pan out, as the word Houssieres doesn't have a historical connection to the Indiana region.



Does Hoosiers look like the word hushers? A little bit. Supposedly, a husher is a regional term for a fighter so intimidating that he "hushed" all opponents. Is the theory solid enough to make hushers the definitive source word? Nope. There's not much evidence that husher was ever a popular enough term to transition to Hoosier.


Perhaps the most believable theory is based on Indiana's geography. The area was home to a number of English settlers, some of whom came from Cumberland. The word hoozer described anything large — and in the case of Indiana, it could have been used to describe the high hills of Southern Indiana. This theory hasn't been proven ... but it hasn't been disproven either.

You Might Know These Hoosiers

Did you know that Johnny Appleseed was a Hoosier? So was Colonel Sanders — and even Garfield the Cat! Every Hoosier worth their salt knows which historical figures and celebrities hailed from Indiana or settled there.

  • President William Henry Harrison - became the first governor of Indiana Territory in 1801

  • John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) - settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1830

  • President Benjamin Harrison - moved to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1854

  • Harland David Sanders (Colonel Sanders) - born September 9, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana

  • Kurt Vonnegut - born November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana

  • James Dean - born February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana

  • Florence Henderson - born February 14, 1934 in Dale, Indiana

  • Jim Davis (creator of Garfield) - born July 28, 1945 in Marion, Indiana

  • David Letterman - born April 12, 1947 in Indianapolis, Indiana

  • John Mellencamp - born October 7, 1951 in Seymour, Indiana

  • Michael Jackson - born August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana

  • Larry Bird - born December 7, 1956 in West Baden Springs, Indiana

  • Axl Rose - born February 6, 1962 in Lafayette, Indiana

  • Vivica A. Fox - born July 30, 1964 in South Bend, Indiana

  • Jenna Fischer - born March 7, 1974 in Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • John Green - born August 24, 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana

One honorary Hoosier is Abraham Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky but spent his childhood in what's now called Lincoln City, Indiana. His childhood home is still intact and has been preserved as the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.


Hoosiers Always Follow These Rules

So how do you proceed if you're not a natural-born Hoosier, but you want to blend in when you're living there? Here are the rules of being a Hoosier — and accordingly, the rules of talking to a Hoosier.

  • Hoosiers support Indiana teams, both college and professional. That sounds limiting, but it's not: Hoosiers have a wide variety of favorite teams to choose from, including the Indianapolis Colts, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Purdue Boilermakers, the Indiana Pacers, and of course, the Indiana Hoosiers!

  • Don't cheer for Tom Brady — ever. This goes back to the early 2000s' Colts/Patriots rivalry that pitted Brady against Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning (and later, Andrew Luck). Indiana ranks first on the states that hate Tom Brady the most, which is saying something.

  • Never say "Indianan" or "Indianian." Those aren't real words. Say "Hoosier."

  • Watch the 1986 movie Hoosiers, but understand that the real story it's based on is way more interesting.

  • Reserve the first weekend of your summer for the Indy 500. It's always on Memorial Day weekend, and it marks the beginning of summer for Hoosiers.

  • Don't say "Hoosier" if you're in St. Louis; it's considered an insulting term with a similar meaning as "hick."

  • "Indy" means "Indianapolis," not the state of Indiana. Calling the entire state "Indy" is a dead giveaway that you're not a real Hoosier.

  • Practice Hoosier Hospitality! Like Minnesota Nice or Southern Manners, Hoosier Hospitality is a welcoming and friendly attitude toward visitors. It's so much a part of Hoosier life that there are several historical examples of Hoosier Hospitality.


Hoosier Is a State of Mind

Whether you're a bread-and-buttered Hoosier or you're a Hoosier at heart, having love for the great state of Indiana is a sign of good taste. Ready to visit another part of the country? Check out: