What is a “Hoosier”? by Jennifer Borland

Greetings, AEA365 readers! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. Registration for this year’s conference is officially open, and our local hosts at the Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA) are working with the AEA team to ensure our time in lovely Indianapolis is a fulfilling one. This week’s posts feature the voices of IEA’s members. Happy reading!

Hello, my name is Jennifer Borland. I am the Director of Research Programs at Rockman et al Cooperative, a research and evaluation firm that specializes in the evaluation of educational programs and media in formal and informal settings. I’ve been working as an evaluator for more than 25 years and I am also proud to say that I was born, raised, and currently work in the great state of Indiana!  

As our colleagues and peers within the evaluation field get ready to join us in the Hoosier state for this year’s Evaluation Conference (October 9th-14th), we figured there might be some who are wondering: “what is a Hoosier?” With that in mind, I’m going to seek to answer that question in today’s blog post. 

Fans of collegiate sports are likely to be familiar with “Hoosier” as a name for athletic teams from Indiana University, (which also happens to be my alma mater). However, while it often proves to be a fun piece of trivia, that knowledge does little to shed light on the meaning and origins of the term. So how did the term “Hoosier” come to be used as a means of identifying someone from Indiana? 

There is still much debate among historians about its exact origins. It made its first written appearance in the first half of the 1800s (albeit sometimes spelled “Hoosher” or “Hooshier” rather than “Hoosier”). For example, Indiana poet, John Finley, penned an 1833 poem entitled “The Hoosier’s Nest” and there were other early appearances of the term in newsprint and correspondence. (1, 2) 

Presumably oral use of the term predates written appearances and there are a couple competing theories for how the term might have first come about. One theory is that the word “Hoosiers” evolved from things that pioneer settlers frequently said—such as their way of asking “who’s here?” when someone knocked on their door. A more gruesome alternative was that it had evolved from the question “who’s ear?,” which was said to have been uttered often during the process of cleaning up after raucous brawls among pioneer men. Thankfully for everyone’s ears, the latter—while still a rumor about the term’s origins that gets presented from time to time—turns out to have been jokingly put forth by Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley in the early part of the 1900s. (1, 2) 

A theory put forth by Joseph Wright, Indiana’s Governor from 1849-1857, was that the term “Hoosier” came from a Native American word “hoosa,” that meant “corn.” While corn is certainly something that Indiana farmers grow in abundance in the present day, scholars have failed to find evidence that “hoosa” is a word for corn in any known Native American language, thus discrediting that theory as well. (2) Perhaps a more plausible theory is the one put forth in the first part of the 1900s, by Indiana historian, Jacob Piatt Dunn. He asserted that “Hoosier” evolved from “hoozer,” a term used in parts of England to refer to people living in the hills. (2,3) 

No matter which theory you choose to believe, “Hoosier” is a term that has come to be embraced by Indiana residents who have great pride in their Hoosier state and an ever-present desire to demonstrate their Hoosier hospitality. And in that spirit, those of us involved with the Indiana Evaluation Association and the Indiana Local Arrangements Working Group for the Evaluation Conference are excited to welcome you to our state and invite you to become an honorary Hoosier during your visit to Indianapolis. 

And if I’ve whet your appetite for doing some more historical research on the origins of the term “Hoosier,” I invite you to visit the Indiana Historical Society or the Indiana State Museum during your stay in Indianapolis, as both of which are within walking distance of the J.W. Marriott where this year’s AEA Evaluation Conference will be held. I encourage you to check out the Visit Indy website for more ideas about things to do and places to dine in Indianapolis, and our Local Arrangements Working Group looks forward to unveiling both print and digital versions of our Local Guidebook soon!


(1) Indiana Historical Bureau, “What is a Hoosier” retrieved August 5, 2023 from https://www.in.gov/history/about-indiana-history-and-trivia/emblems-and-symbols/what-is-a-hoosier/#:~:text=They%20were%20called%20%22Hoosier’s%20men,%22hoosa%20men%22%20or%20Hoosiers.

(2) Beckley, Lindsay. The Word Hoosier: An Origin Story.  Retrieved August 5, 2023 from https://blog.history.in.gov/the-word-hoosier-an-origin-story/

(3) Dunn, Jacob Piatt. “Origin of the Word Hoosier.” Indiana Magazine of History. Volume 1, no. 2. 1905, as cited in Graf, Jeffrey (November 1, 2000) [Last revised: July 28, 2016]. “The Word Hoosier“. Indiana.edu. Indiana University Bloomington. Archived from the original on 2018-03-12. Retrieved August 5, 2023.

We’re looking forward to the Evaluation 2023 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to AEA365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to AEA365@eval.org. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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