If someone mentions The Big Apple, you immediately know that they are talking about New York City. A nickname is a form of endearment, but those for cities are also a kind of batch of honor. They indicate that these cities are special, standing out from many others for several reasons. They may have to do with history, monuments, traditions, or nature. There are several more cities in the United States that are known by their nicknames.
In some cases, the reasoning behind the nickname is obvious. In others, nicknames have surprising histories. And sometimes there is more than one story about how the nickname came to be.
Enjoy our exploration of how these eight iconic American cities got their nicknames!
New York City: The Big Apple
You will never guess the origin of this nickname. It began in the 1920s when sports journalist John J. Fitz Gerald wrote a column for the New York Morning Telegraph about the many horse races and racecourses in and around New York. He referred to the substantial prizes to be won as “the big apple,” symbolizing the biggest and best one can achieve. The term started to gain traction. Next came the jazz musicians of the 1930s, who referred to New York as the big apple in their songs. A mantra for show business at the time was: There are many apples on a tree, but only one big apple —New York.
By the 1960s and ’70s, New York had gained a reputation as dark, violent, and dangerous. To improve its image and attract tourism, in 1971 a successful advertising campaign was launched, making a big red apple the city’s logo and firmly establishing the nickname The Big Apple. The corner of 54th Street and Broadway got a street sign that read Big Apple Corner. Volunteers actually handed out real apples to passers-by, and the apple became the logo of many New York City enterprises.
Philadelphia: City Of Brotherly Love
William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, must have had a great admiration for ancient Greece. He named his city by combining the ancient Greek words phileo for “love” and adelphos for “brother” into Philadelphia, which means City of Brotherly Love. A lot has been written about the truthfulness of that nickname, and it’s been discussed by some as being rather ironic.
Chicago: The Windy City
There are several stories explaining this nickname. One is obvious — it can be understood as a reference to the icy winds blowing off Lake Michigan — but another is far more interesting and, again, involved journalists. Apparently, editor Charles Dana of the New York Sun depicted the city’s residents and particularly its politicians as “windbags” and “full of hot air” in an article published in 1890. Whichever you prefer, Chicago is established as the Windy City.
Las Vegas: Sin City
You think Las Vegas, and images of non-stop gambling, free-flowing alcohol, over-the-top casinos, and scantily clothed showgirls come to mind. Sin City for sure. But it wasn’t always glamorous, and there is some compelling history even around this seemingly obvious nickname.
Fremont East was the hub at the beginning of the 20th century, Block 16 being the red light district and Block 17 selling liquor to workers and travelers. It was all low-key and quite sordid. Gambling became legal in 1931. In the 1950s, the mobsters came to town and started their gambling resort empires, creating The Strip with the Flamingo and Stardust as the earliest glitzy casinos. They are no demolished and have given way to ever-bigger and more lavish resorts, still justifying the nickname Sin City.
New Orleans: The Big Easy
As you might have thought, this moniker has to do with the laid-back lifestyle of the city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. But, who coined the name? There are several theories. Apparently, in the 1960s gossip columnist Betty Guillaud used the name whilst comparing the hectic life of the Big Apple to the sedate rhythm of New Orleans. Others think that it came from the abundance of street musicians who had the best chance of performing and getting recognized here. In other words, it was easy. And lastly, yet others think it is a reference to a popular dance hall of the same name.
Seattle: The Emerald City
I have to disappoint you: It’s not the precious gemstones that gave Seattle its nickname. However, something equally precious, the green of nature, led to the name. It’s a reference to the greenery in and around Seattle which thrives all year round, including evergreens, shrubs, and moss. Right in the middle of the city, you find the Discovery Park Arboretum. For once, it wasn’t a journalist who coined this name. Instead, it won a 1980 Convention and Visitors Bureau contest for the best nickname. Emerald City won hands down.
Miami: The Magic City
Railway tycoon Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle were the parents of this growing city, which, in 1940, counted only 172,172 inhabitants. They wanted to attract more visitors and residents and therefore asked writer E.V. Blackman to compose an article for his magazine, East Coast Homeseeker, that painted Miami in a magical light.
Obviously, he succeeded and the name was born. Also, winter visitors noticed the fast growth of the population from one year to the next and commented that it seemed to happen by magic. As a former Miami resident myself, I personally attribute the magic to the unique atmosphere of South Beach.
Boise: City Of Trees
This story goes back to the early settlers who climbed a hill and looked down at a vast forest in Treasure Valley, but the city itself, founded in 1863, actually sat in a dry sagebrush plain, as the woods along the river were miles away. From early on, the citizens of Boise (from the French word bois, for “wood”) were determined to grow trees. The nickname City of Trees really came about after some ads in the local newspaper, the Tri-Weekly Statesman. The forestation trend in Boise is alive and well to this day.