National Local Life

How These 5 Cities Got Their Nicknames

Some city nicknames are obscure enough that they operate as a kind of inside joke for locals, while others are so widely used that they need no introduction. The latter monikers are used so often that we probably don’t stop to wonder about their origin. New York isn’t particularly shaped like an apple, and is Chicago really the windiest city? Take peek at the meaning and history behind some of the most common city nicknames.

Why is Baltimore called Charm City?

While many East Coast cities have nicknames that can be traced back to their origins (see Philadelphia), Baltimore’s well-known nickname came about in more recent memory. “Charm City” certainly has a catchy ring to it, which comes as no surprise once you learn that it was masterminded by a group of ad agencies in the 1970s.

The mayor at the time, William Donald Schaefer, was concerned about the city’s image and wanted to change the way people saw it. The ad companies put their heads together and ran a series of advertisements highlighting the “hidden charm” of the city, according to The Baltimore Sun. The name stuck, and the city’s charming reputation, and name, endures to this day.

Bonus Nickname: Clipper City

Long before Baltimore became known as Charm City, it earned a reputation for the speedy ships (clippers) created in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Baltimore clipper ship on display in Baltimore harbor
Clipper ships helped give Baltimore one of its nicknames.

Why is Philadelphia called the City of Brotherly Love?

Philadelphia’s nickname is derived from its etymological roots. William Penn created the name for the city from “phileo,” the Greek word for love, and “adelphos,” the Greek word for brother, according to The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. As a Quaker, Penn set out to promote religious tolerance in his City of Brotherly Love. Established in the 1680s, Philadelphia and its nickname still stands today.

Bonus Nickname: The City of Sisterly Love

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment (women’s right to vote), Philadelphia updated its nickname to The City of Sisterly Love through the end of this year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why is Chicago called the Windy City?

Though it's widely known as the Windy City, locals aren’t likely to drop the nickname in casual conversation. This title has a few popularly touted origins, two related to the weather and one to the people.

Of course, the blustery winds that come off of Lake Michigan make the name fitting. The name may also trace back to a headline describing the effects of a tornado that tore through the city in the 1800s. Another theory, now widely considered mythical, points to a New York Sun article accusing Chicago residents and politicians of being “full of hot air.” Regardless of the origins, anyone who walks through the city’s streets in winter can certainly feel the biting effects of the wind.

Bonus Nickname: Second City

Many people think that Chicago’s Second City nickname has to do with the city playing second fiddle to New York, but it's actually a nod to the city’s rise from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The Water Tower in Chicago that survived the Great Fire
The Chicago Water Tower is one of the only buildings to survive the Great Fire.

Why is Las Vegas called Sin City?

Of all the city nicknames you could think of, Sin City might have the most obvious meaning. After all, Las Vegas is America’s Playground. The dazzling lights of the Strip, crowd of casinos, and opulent stage shows have been immortalized in film and television as a decadent setting for indulgence and pleasure.

In the early 1900s, well before the Vegas we know today, Block 16 (home to the red light district) and Block 17 (the spot to buy liquor) are considered the reason for the city’s reputation as Sin City. Today, gambling and nightclubs remain major attractions for thousands of tourists.

Bonus Nickname: Marriage Capital of the World

La Vegas is sometimes referred to the Marriage Capital of the World (or Wedding Capital of the World) thanks to its “quickie wedding chapels” and the thousands of weddings that take place there each year. The more cynical may also jokingly refer to the city as the Divorce Capital of the World.

Why is New York called the Big Apple?

An apple held up in The Big Apple, New York City
"The Big Apple" is one of the most well known city nicknames.

The image of a big red apple is as synonymous with the city as the Empire State Building. Tourists looking for a quick souvenir will find trinkets emblazoned with both. However, the genesis of this nickname has less to do with fruit and more to do with horseracing.

In the 1920s, reporter John Fitz Gerald overheard stable hands referring to New York as "the big apple,” a reference to the city’s major racing tracks, according to HISTORY. Fitz Gerald started using the nickname in his written work. Though it fell out of fashion for a time, the nickname experienced a renaissance through a tourism campaign in the 1970s. Now, it's hard to imagine breaking the association between NYC and a big, red apple.

Bonus Nickname: The City That Never Sleeps

New York’s reputation as a city of night owls is pretty apparent. The subway system runs 24 hours a day, and nighttime entertainment is never lacking. Funny enough, New Yorkers weren’t the first to embrace the name. Instead, the nickname was applied to the city as a whole in an Indiana newspaper.

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