Nevada is officially known as the "Silver State" because of the importance of silver to its history and economy. It is also known as the "Battle Born State", because it achieved statehood during the Civil War (the words "Battle Born" also appear on the state flag); as the "Sagebrush State", for the native plant of the same name; and as the "Sage-hen State".
Before European contact, Native Americans of the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes inhabited the land that is now Nevada. The first Europeans to explore the region were Spanish. They called the region Nevada (snowy) because of the snow which covered the mountains in winter. The area formed part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and became part of Mexico when it gained independence in 1821. The United States annexed the area in 1848 after its victory in the Mexican–American War, and it was incorporated as part of Utah Territory in 1850. The discovery of silver at the Comstock Lode in 1859 led to a population boom that became an impetus to the creation of Nevada Territory out of western Utah Territory in 1861. Nevada became the 36th state on October 31, 1864, as the second of two states added to the Union during the Civil War (the first being West Virginia).
Nevada has a reputation for its libertarian laws. In 1940, with a population of just over 110,000 people, Nevada was by far the least-populated state, with less than half the population of the next least-populated state. However, legalized gambling and lenient marriage and divorce laws transformed Nevada into a major tourist destination in the 20th century. Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legal, though it is illegal in Clark County (Las Vegas), Washoe County (Reno) and Carson City (which, as an independent city, is not within the boundaries of any county). The tourism industry remains Nevada's largest employer, with mining continuing as a substantial sector of the economy: Nevada is the fourth-largest producer of gold in the world.
The name "Nevada" comes from the Spanish nevada[neˈβaða], meaning "snow-covered", after the Sierra Nevada ("snow-covered mountains").
Most Nevadans pronounce the second syllable of their state name using the TRAP vowel (ə/). Many from outside the Western United States pronounce it with the PALM vowel (ə/). Although the latter pronunciation is closer to the Spanish pronunciation, it is not the pronunciation preferred by most Nevadans. State Assemblyman Harry Mortenson proposed a bill to recognize the alternate (quasi-Spanish) pronunciation of Nevada, though the bill was not supported by most legislators and never received a vote. The Nevadan pronunciation is the de facto official one, since it is the one used by the state legislature. At one time, the state's official tourism organization, TravelNevada, stylized the name of the state as "Nevăda", with a breve mark over the a indicating the locally preferred pronunciation which is also available as a license plate design.