Is Kentucky a Southern State? Here are the Key Factors Behind Kentucky's Dual Identity

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Is Kentucky a Southern State? Here are the Key Factors Behind Kentucky's Dual Identity
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Kentucky's identity often sparks debate over whether it's a Southern state -- or more accurately, a proud "commonwealth," as Kentucky officially is called, not a state. (The terms often are interchangeable, as in "Bluegrass State.")

Either way, Kentucky's unique cultural identity, a blend of Southern and Midwestern influences, has contributed to a rich sports history with basketball and horse racing among the major sports that ignite passions across the commonwealth.

With the upcoming launch of sports betting in Kentucky, it's interesting to consider how this blend might influence the betting scene. Will the Southern charm and hospitality translate into a welcoming betting community? Will the Midwestern grit and determination lead to a competitive and dynamic betting scene?

Time will tell.

One thing is certain: Sports betting is bound to generate excitement on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Ongoing Debate: Southern or Midwestern?

Often seen as a crossroads between the Upper South and the Midwest, Kentucky boasts a unique identity contributing to its sports history.

The Southern influence is evident in Kentucky's love for college sports, especially basketball. The University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of Louisville Cardinals have a storied basketball rivalry deeply ingrained in the commonwealth's identity. Legendary UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp and former Wildcats star Anthony Davis, now with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, are among those who have cemented Kentucky's well-deserved reputation as a hoops hotbed.

This passion for college sports is a hallmark of the South, where collegiate teams often receive as much, if not more, attention and loyalty than professional teams.

But the question is what makes a state Southern, Western, Northern, etc.? Is it geographic location, or is there an X factor, a way of life, that matters more than placement on the map?

What about other border states, including West Virginia? Are those states and Kentucky their own unique region?

Let's explore in more detail.


Geographical Location: Where is Kentucky on the Map?

Technically, Kentucky is in the Upland South, bordering centrally located states such as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, though Southern states -- Virginia and Tennessee -- also are its neighbors.

Is Kentucky a Southern State? - KY position on map

Historical Context: The Civil War's Impact on Kentucky's Identity

While located below the Mason-Dixon line, and with loyalties on the Union and Confederate sides during the Civil War, Kentucky was not one of the 11 original Confederate states. This historical context has contributed to its mixed identity. In that regard, Kentucky is like another border state, Missouri, which also exhibited loyalties on both sides during the Civil War.

Some people in Kentucky consider themselves undeniably Southern, while others might not identify that way at all or are somewhere in the middle.

Either way, as in other states, Civil War symbols such as the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments are seen by many as divisive and inconsistent with inclusive efforts to improve the social climate and economic environment.

Civil War's Impact on Kentucky

Kentucky's Sports Culture: A Blend of Influences

Down South, enthusiasm runs high for collegiate athletic teams, including the Kentucky Wildcats, that compete in the rugged Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats are in the SEC East, regularly facing teams from neighboring states such as Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

The Wildcats also battle SEC West teams from states that extend from the Gulf Coast to the Texas Hill Country. These states include Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Texas.

If that lineup doesn't indicate the Bluegrass State is in the South, what will?

On the other hand, the Middle America influence is seen in Kentucky's love for sports like Major League Baseball, which has longstanding traditions enveloping broad swaths of land from the East Coast to Middle America and beyond. At least in Northern Kentucky, fans follow MLB teams from Ohio's major cities -- the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds.

Kentucky has produced several stellar baseball players, including the legendary Pee Wee Reese, a longtime Dodgers star, beginning during the World War II years. Even the iconic wooden baseball bat, the Louisville Slugger, is a source of state pride.

Kentucky sports fans also split their loyalties between NFL teams. In the Southern part of Kentucky, the Tennessee Titans enjoy support from their neighbors, while some Northern Kentucky fans near the Ohio River are inclined to follow the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals and teams in the Black and Blue Division -- the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.

Kentucky Wildcats - Commonwealth Stadium

Culture: Music, Food & Other Traditions

Kentucky is known for its Southern hospitality but also shares many cultural aspects with the Midwest.

For instance, Kentucky's cuisine is a blend of regional influences. The state is famous for its fried chicken, a Southern staple, and for its hot browns and Kentucky Derby Day mint juleps but also for its burgoo, often associated with the Midwest and Upper South.

Kentucky has a rich musical heritage, with bluegrass being especially popular. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys are bona fide legends, as are other Kentucky country artists such as Loretta Lynn.

The names of talented performers with Kentucky roots don't stop there. Others, such as Lionel Hampton, Ashley Judd (a UK graduate and Wildcats fan) and Billy Ray Cyrus have large followings, while Johnny Depp and George Clooney are among those representing the commonwealth in the film industry.

On the literary side, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a Kentuckian, blazed new trails with his books. Even Daisy Buchanan, a fictional character from Minnesota native F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby," is from Kentucky.

Linguistic Patterns: The Accent/Dialect Debate

Some areas of Kentucky have a distinctly Southern accent similar to parts of the Deep South, while others lean more towards the noticeably Mid-American dialect of someone from a city like Chicago.

In Kentucky, for instance, some words are pronounced a certain way by a majority of the population and can be considered an identifying dialect. For instance, the word "aunt" is pronounced "ant" by 86.62% of the population and "ah-unt" by 1.91%, according to Dialect Survey.

Even certain terms that Kentuckians use seem more Southern than Midwestern. For example, the generic word for a sweetened carbonated beverage is "Coke," according 43.77% of the population. The term "soft drink" is used by 20.88% of Kentuckians, while another 15.82% say "soda."

So a conversation regarding a soft drink might go like this:

"Get me a Coke."

"What kind?"


Economic Factors: A Mixed Economy

Agriculture, especially corn and soybeans, plays significant role of the Kentucky economy, as in several Midwestern states. But Kentucky also is known for coal mining, an industry often associated with the Appalachian South.

Depending on the region, Kentucky's economy also benefits from productivity in manufacturing, trade, mining, tourism and other services.

On the tourism front, Kentucky is considered the country's horse racing capital, with several racetracks attracting fans and bettors from around the globe. The event has become synonymous with betting on the Kentucky Derby, drawing enthusiasts eager to place their wagers. The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville is the first leg of the annual Triple Crown, a showcase not only for the world's best thoroughbreds but also for the elegant spring hats that many women wear to the May event.


Closing Thoughts

Kentucky's unique identity, a blend of Southern charm and Midwestern straightforwardness, is reflected in its rich sports culture.

This culture, shaped by legendary athletes such as heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, is set to enter an exciting new chapter with the upcoming launch of sports betting in the commonwealth. In-person betting begins Sept. 7 at sportsbooks inside horse tracks across Kentucky, while mobile wagering (cellphone apps, computers) starts Sept. 28. Esteemed platforms like BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel are all gearing up to introduce their Kentucky betting apps, offering fans a diverse range of options to place their bets.

For those interested in this upcoming launch, we recommend keeping an eye on updates that we'll post here. As we move closer to the launch date, we'll share more information and resources to help you navigate this exciting new addition to Kentucky's sports scene. Additionally, for those looking to make the most of their betting experience, check out our Kentucky sports betting promotions page for the latest updates on pre-registration offers and launch bonuses.

Whether you consider Kentucky a Southern or Midwestern state, one thing is clear: Its passion for sports is undeniable. And as sports betting prepares to kick off, we look forward to seeing how this new chapter will further enrich Kentucky's vibrant sports culture.

Remember to always gamble responsibly and enjoy the games that make Kentucky so unique.


Is Kentucky a Midwest or Southern state?

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Why is Kentucky not considered the South?

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Is Louisville, Kentucky, considered the South?

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Is Kentucky up North?

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What factors contribute to Kentucky's mixed identity?

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Larry Henry

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