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Is Washington really 'The Evergreen State'? The question remains

caption: A state road sign at the border welcoming drivers to Washington, "The Evergreen State."
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A state road sign at the border welcoming drivers to Washington, "The Evergreen State."

Washington's state Senate has passed a bill that lawmakers feel everyone can agree on, no matter what their politics are — that Washington is "The Evergreen State."

“This nickname is important to us,” said Republican state Sen. Jeff Wilson on the floor of the Senate this week. “It gets long in line with our rich history and tradition. It’s something that all Washingtonians can come together on, because we already have.”

The state Senate approved Wilson's SB 5595 this week, a bill that establishes "The Evergreen State" as the official nickname of Washington. The House has yet to consider it.

Wait... isn't that already Washington's nickname?

Sort of. "The Evergreen State" can be found on many signs, Washington's automobile license plates, and it's state fair. It's even the name of a state university. But technically, it's not official.

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Washington has a long list of official things that represent the state — a state insect, amphibian, even a state tartan pattern. Unofficially, the state Capitol is a symbol of Washington. The state also has an unofficial motto (Alki). "The Evergreen State" is also listed as unofficial.

The nickname goes back to when Washington became a state in 1889. Shortly after that, 27-year-old Seattle realtor C.T. Conover created a marketing campaign to attract newcomers (aka customers) to the region. He printed up a pamphlet featuring Elliott Bay, Snoqualmie Falls, and the words, "Washington The Evergreen State and Seattle its Metropolis" on the cover.

"The Evergreen State" caught on and was soon used by others over the years to hype Washington. According to Historian Feliks Banel, records are fuzzy on whether state lawmakers ever have officially adopted the nickname. There are some indications that the state House approved it in 1893, but nothing confirmed. Senate Republicans say that newspapers reported that the House passed a bill to make it official at that time, but there are no state records to back that up.

caption: A 1950s postcard for Washington, proclaiming it as "The Evergreen State."
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A 1950s postcard for Washington, proclaiming it as "The Evergreen State."

Over the years, state lawmakers have approved an official dinosaur (Suciasaurus Rex), a state sport (pickleball), and a state oyster (ostrea lurida). But despite legislation showing up every now and then to make "The Evergreen State" the official nickname, the idea has never garnered enough lawmaker approval, or at least, enough interest to make it a priority during a legislative session.

In 2009, Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Grandview) introduce Evergreen State legislation, but it didn't go anywhere. In 2023, Sen. Wilson (R-Longview) gave it another try. The Senate voted in favor of the nickname, but the bill didn't make it through the House.

Wilson is giving it another try during the current 2024 session. Once again, the measure was approved in the Senate (by a 47-2 vote). And once again, it's in the hands of the House to decide its fate.

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Wilson says the effort aims to correct the legislative oversight from the 1800s that has left the nickname in evergreen limbo.

“We set the record straight after nearly 135 years of using the state nickname, ‘The Evergreen State,’ the Senate officially passed it to legitimize the use of this nickname," Wilson said.

If the House doesn't vote on the measure this year, "The Evergreen State" will stay in unofficial limbo, leaving open a risk that another state will figure this out and take it.

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