Have you ever wondered where 'Cakalacky' - our much loved nickname for North Carolina - came from? Well we have. The first place we ever heard the word ‘Cakalacky’ was from A Tribe Called Quest, one of the greatest hip hop groups of the 90's - if not of all time. Their single ‘Scenario’ - listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 50 greatest hip hop songs ever - includes the memorable and catchy lyrics “East coast stomping, ripping and romping // New York, North Cack-a-laka, and Compton.”
This pop culture reference was the first time this unique term for North Carolina reached a national audience, but A Tribe Called Quest clearly didn’t just invent ‘North Cakalaka.’ So where did it come from? Well the quick answer is that nobody knows. There is no clear origin for this odd nickname for North Carolina, although there are many theories about where this term came from.
To begin, there is no consensus on how exactly ‘Cakalacky’ is spelled. There are numerous alternative spellings and derivations of this nickname which is sometimes seen spelled as Cackalacky, Cacillaci, Cackalack, Kakalaka, Kackalacky, Cakalaka, and others. The fact there is no commonly accepted spelling indicates its origins as a type of colloquial folk speech that has been passed across generations and through communities by word-of-mouth.
A professor of American Studies at UNC has suggested that ‘Cakalacky’ has roots in gospel groups in the American South in the1930s, who used the rhythmic chant “clanka lanka” in their songs. Other theories include the idea that the term may have come from a combination of “Tsalaki” (pronounced cha-lak-ee), supposedly the Cherokee way to say “Cherokee,” and “cocklaleekie,” a Scottish soup popular among the Scots that settled the highlands of western North Carolina.
Another professor at UNC has said that there is strong evidence showing the term gained popularity and spread among soldiers from outside of North Carolina during the late 1960’s Vietnam era when more than 200,000 soldiers from all over the country passed through Fort Bragg for basic training.
There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the term ‘Cakalacky’ either did or did not exist earlier than the 1960’s depending on which old timer you talk to. However, what is known is that ‘Cakalacky’ was apparently completely undocumented in printed form until it was used in A Tribe Called Quest’s hit song ‘Scenario.’ Since that time, the use of the term seems to have increased in popularity considerably.
In the end we will likely never know where the term ‘Cakalacky’ came from, what its original meaning was, or why people started using this odd yet beloved nickname for North Carolina, but regardless of whether these questions are ever answered, one thing we do know is that 'Cakalackeee' is the place to be!!
If you have a theory or a story about where you think 'Cakalacky' originated, tell us what you know and leave a comment!