What is a Tar Heel

Discover the origins and significance of the term ‘Tar Heel’ in North Carolina. Explore examples of Tar Heel pride and the impact on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Have you ever heard the term ‘Tar Heel’ and wondered what it means? In this article, we will explore the origins and meanings of the term, as well as its significance in North Carolina and beyond.

What is a Tar Heel?

The term ‘Tar Heel’ is a nickname for people from the state of North Carolina in the United States. It is widely used to refer to residents of the state, as well as to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill athletic teams and alumni.

Origins of the Term

There are several theories about the origins of the term ‘Tar Heel.’ One popular theory is that it comes from the state’s historic role as a producer of naval stores, such as tar, pitch, and turpentine. Workers in the industry would often get tar on their heels, leading to the nickname.

Another theory is that during the Civil War, North Carolina soldiers stood their ground in battle, as if their heels were stuck in tar. This brave and steadfast behavior led to them being called ‘Tar Heels.’


The term ‘Tar Heel’ is a source of pride for many North Carolinians, symbolizing strength, resilience, and loyalty. It has become ingrained in the state’s identity, with sports fans proudly waving the Tar Heel flag at games and alumni proudly displaying their Tar Heel pride.

Examples of Tar Heel Pride

  • UNC Chapel Hill fans chanting ‘Tar Heels’ at basketball games
  • North Carolinians referring to themselves as Tar Heels in casual conversation
  • Businesses in the state incorporating the term into their branding

Case Study: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, often referred to as UNC Chapel Hill, is a prime example of Tar Heel pride. The athletic teams, known as the Tar Heels, have a large and dedicated fan base that includes current students, alumni, and residents of North Carolina.

UNC Chapel Hill’s iconic colors, Carolina blue and white, along with the Tar Heel logo, are instantly recognizable symbols of the school’s athletic program. The university’s rich history and tradition further reinforce the significance of the Tar Heel name.


A 2019 study found that over 70% of North Carolinians identify as Tar Heels, indicating the widespread popularity and pride associated with the term. Additionally, UNC Chapel Hill consistently ranks among the top public universities in the country, further solidifying the reputation of the Tar Heel name.


In conclusion, the term ‘Tar Heel’ holds a special place in the hearts of North Carolinians, representing a sense of community, tradition, and pride. Whether it’s cheering on the Tar Heels at a basketball game or proudly displaying a Tar Heel bumper sticker, the spirit of the Tar Heel lives on in the state of North Carolina.

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