Surprising Ways 9 Major Cities Got Their Famous Nicknames

Surprising Ways 9 Major Cities Got Their Famous Nicknames

Ever wondered why we say the Big Easy or the Big Apple?

By Lindsay Tigar

Famous nicknames for cities roll off our tongues casually — you know what someone means when they refer to the Big Easy, the Big Apple, or the Windy City. But did you ever stop to wonder exactly the origins of those mysterious nicknames? Wonder no more:

1. London: The Big Smoke, The Old Smoke or The Smoke

Depending on who you talk to, London’s nickname will change — from The Big Smoke to the Old Smoke, or simply, just the Smoke. According to locals, this often gray-skied city earned its title because residents in the late 19th and early 20th century used coal to heat their homes, which created a lot of smoke in the air. This is also referenced to as London fog. Another reason smoke might be a household name in this English city is because of the Great Smog that happened in 1952, where a thick layer of dangerous fuel smoke covered the buildings and homes, killing more than 4,000 people over five days.

2. New York City: The Big Apple

If you ever visit, you probably won’t find an apple on your culinary tour — especially not with all the pizza, sushi, and bagels you'll consume — so why is this city named after a fruit? It’s actually thanks to a newspaper reporter in the early 1920s, John Fitz Gerald, who visited New Orleans. While he was there, he overheard some locals saying they were headed to the Big Apple, in reference to New York. He liked the nickname so much, he started writing about the city that way and it caught on. Even so, it didn’t really become a commonplace way to reference New York until a the city itself created a tourism campaign in the 1970s to attract visitors when crime was bad.

3. New Orleans: The Big Easy

With second lines on every street of the French Quarter on the reg and an open container policy that’ll make a saint a sinner after two Hurricanes, you might think it’s called the Big Easy because falling in love with this Southern gem feels so effortless. While there was a dance hall in the 1900s called the Big Easy, the nickname comes yet again from a writer. While comparing the pace of New York City to New Orleans, a Louisiana newspaper writer coined this creole town the Big Easy in the 1970s. After this, author James Conaway wrote a crime novel by the same name, which was turned into a movie in 1987. Ever since, the name has remained a staple of the city.

4. Miami: The Magic City

You definitely feel enchanted while basking in the heat of South Beach, or strolling up to a club in your tightest of outfits, looking for a fun night out. It’s likely that the first residents of Miami felt this way too, since the reason behind its nickname, the Magic City, is due its rapid growth in a short amount of time. While in 1900, the city only had a population of 1,681, by 1920, it had 25,549 — a giant uptick for the time period. During the decade of the 1920s, real estate took off, with the development of resorts and subdivisions, and visitors started to say that Miami had “grown like magic.”

5. Paris: The City of Lights

With baguette in your belly and a glass of fine vino in your hand, you’ll definitely feel lit up by one of the most beautiful cities in France. Known for butter-rich foods and romance, it’s not the love potion of Paris that gave it its nickname, but rather, its attitude. Because Paris played a big part in the so-called Age of Enlightenment between the late 1600s and 1800s, becoming a mecca for education and creative arts, it was said to have ignited the masses. Another reason for it’s La Ville Lumiere name? It was the first city in Europe to use gas lamps to light up one of it’s landmarks, Champs-Elysees.

6. Chicago: The Windy City

While historians debate the actual origins, with many giving credit to the intense, cold gusts of wind that make their way from Lake Michigan to the sidewalks, another reason might be based on politics. While competing to host the World Fair in 1893 (which Chicago won, by the way), newspapers would say that local leaders were "full of hot air." But the latter seems unlikely, as references to the Windy City appear in newspaper clippings dating back to the 1870s. So the mystery remains.

7. Boston: Beantown

It’s not a clever quest for alliteration that gives Boston its Beantown name. And well, it doesn’t even have to do with coffee, which you might guess if you ever ask a Bostonian if they prefer Dunkin’ over Starbucks. (Spoiler: it’s the first, always). The origin is actually based on a surprising condiment: molasses. In the early 1900s, Boston had a lot of access to molasses, making it a big part of the city’s flavors within their dishes. One of the most popular was a recipe called Boston Baked Beans, made with — you guessed it! — molasses.

8. Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love

It’s not that Philly isn’t a friendly destination (it is) but its reputation for friendliness doesn't spring immediately to mind in the way that, say, some of the famously gracious southern cities do. Even so, it’s the city's founder, William Penn, who named it. And he was quite literal in his choice of moniker: It’s a combination of two Greek words, phileo and adelphos, which when combined mean brotherly love. Get it?

9. Seattle: The Emerald City

Considering how much it rains in Seattle, you might not think of lush lawns and blue skies at first mention. Even so, this West-coast city was given this gemstone name because of its location on the map. It’s between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and is home to countless parks where you can run, picnic, or relax (when it’s not pouring, that is). Because of this greenery landmine, the tourism board started calling Seattle the Emerald City in the 1970s to attract visitors.

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