Do American states have the most iconic shapes of any national subdivisions?

I love the way American states are shaped. Each one is unique, has character, and can be readily identified from silhouette – Texas, for example, is immediately distinguishable from Montana, or Virginia, or any other state on the map. (Okay, Colorado & Wyoming are often confused for each other, but that’s an outlier…)

Other countries aren’t so lucky – the amorphous blobs of France or Brazil look featureless and random.

Or am I wrong? Can people from Auvergne, France immediately distinguish their state’s shape from Champagne-Ardenne? Is a Paraná-shaped belt buckle instantly identifiable for what it is? What do people from other countries think about the shapes of their states/prefectures/etc.?

I am sure that a citizen of France or Brazil that understood his/her countries geography would recognize the states of their country and the relative placement of each state.

I am also sure they would look at a map of the US States and declare what a screw up blob of states that is, especially the ones out west with all those straight lines, how boring.

Guessing, but I suspect they can.

Most such internal boundaries are based on physical features, usually rivers. And people do tend to know where the big rivers are, and the shapes of their courses.

Are you American? I think that perhaps you think they are specially individual and iconic because of familiarity, not because of any exceptional individualism that they possess. I feel that the preponderance of straight lines makes American states very similar to each other, especially in the Midwest.

Personally, I think Indian states are much more distinctive, but then again I might be biased by familiarity.

I’d call the ones that are really iconically shaped the outliers. Texas and California are, because they are both uniquely-shaped and famous. Most of the rest are just blobs or boxes.

I’m sure French and Brazilian school children are forced to learn the names of their respective states/administrative regions just as US school children are.

I think your POV would be fairly common to most Americans, but totally alien to someone in France or Brazil. In my experience most foreigners know the shapes and relative positions of California, New York and Florida, but as far as those flyover states in the middle… not so much.

If anything, I would say that US states are far more random than most countries’ subdivisions. The boundary lines that aren’t based on geographic features are mostly just arbitrary lines drawn at longitudinal parallels.

Having said that, I never once thought about the shape of the county I lived in growing up in the UK. I mean, I could recognize England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland even as abstract shapes, but definitely not Somerset or the West Midlands. I also don’t remember ever being required to learn the names of the counties. We did have to learn the Saxon kingdoms in history class.

The straight lines make American states look especially inorganic; but I’m sure the inhabitants can tell the difference crossing the borders.
Plus it cuts down on both aggressive and furtive expansion.

Well, that’s part of what I was thinking, how growing up American could make this a case of confirmation bias. Although what made me think of this question was playing Geoguessr, where I can often identify which part of America (or Canada) I’m in from images of the state’s shape on highway signs, business logos or billboards, etc. I don’t recall ever seeing a Brazilian state’s shape used as a logo.

Aha, that’s exactly what I was wondering.

Am american but I think one reason they shapes look “blob-like” (and france especially looks that way to me) is those boundaries are largely drawn on geographical and/or deeply historical lines of demarcation. The US was starting fresh so to speak, especially out west, so some of the boundaries of our states were drawn for reasons besides geography or history, which allowed them to be more linear, distinctive or what have you. I think for this reason to me Brasil and India resemble our states the most and the UK and France do feel more arbitrary to my eyes.

Mostly though I suspect what you are noticing I think is just familiarity though what Really Not All That Bright says about not having to learn the counties is so interesting - in elementary school we definitely had to learn all the states but not the counties within my state.

The boundaries of the states of Australia are at least as iconic as those of the US, and for much the same reason: they generally follow lines of longitude or latitude, except for the Murray River between NSW and Victoria.

They are so iconic that they are often used in logos, e.g.:

Metropolitan France is shaped as L’Hexagone.
(Yes, but you can also get a pretty good Pentagon if you combine the Pyrenees and Mediterranean sides of the Hexagon – both are short, and rather obtusely angled from each other.)

Fittingly, since elephant is their bald-eagle equivalent, Thailand is is shaped like an elephant’s head.

That may be related to the Federal form of our government – we started as a collection of separate states (colonies), and there are still significant differences between the states*. That’s not true in many countries, with a more centralized government. Thus many people, and businesses, have an amount of affection/loyalty for their state, and thus use of that state’s shape in logos is fairly common. That wouldn’t be true in more centralized countries.

*Just on this board, it’s common to see questions from a non-American that show that they clearly don’t understand this. For example a recent post asked ‘what are the actual requirements for purchasing a gun?’ – One of the first responses pointed out that it depends on the state – it’s vastly different between Texas and Massachusetts. It’s fairly common to see responses to an OP saying ‘it all depends on which state’ – something rather incomprehensible to people in countries where the national government sets such laws nationwide.


In some cases, yes. I recall recently crossing a surveyed border between Arkansas and Oklahoma on a smaller road, not seeing a sign announcing the line, and having no idea which state we were in. In another instance, we crossed from Utah into Wyoming and the quality of the pavement immediately changed (which I have seen even between counties within a state). But cross from Kansas into Nebraska and the difference is obvious: Nebraska looks like people live there.

Except for CO & WY.


And as further evidence towards the thesis of regularity breeding familiarity, are there many Australians who’d recognise the outline of their own Australian Capital Territory?

The capital territory in the US looks disturbingly like a rotated Djibouti.

They’re both kind of cowy shaped.

If you postulate a cubic cow. :smiley:

I wanted to make a point (independent of the stupid joke just above) that the shapes of the states are more iconic because states are culturally more significant to Americans than provinces are to inhabitants of the other respective countries. As it were, a distinct sense of identity as a citizen of Texas or Illinois or Colorado that you don’t get as a resident of a particular province of Japan or some department in France.

But I don’t trust my own assertion, because I’ve never been French and never lived long enough in Japan to get that sense. Or any other country.

Still, we 'muricans make a bigger deal of the relative political and legal sovereignty of our states relative to the federal government, it seems, so maybe our state identity makes a difference here.

I know this is a US-centric board, but to suggest that the USA has the most iconic shapes of any national subdivisions is ludicrous.