What’s in a name? Get the backstory behind these interesting city nicknames

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Most of us were given nicknames as a kid. If you were unlucky, your nickname might be so cringy you’d rather die than have your friends, colleagues, or partner find out what it is. 

Perhaps you still go by one, not just because people can’t remember your real name, but because people can’t pronounce it. Perhaps your nickname was gifted to you out of endearment by someone you love. However, if your nickname was something like “Josie Grosie” or “Moaning Myrtle”, you might not have loved it quite as much.

Alas, even towns and cities can’t escape the nicknaming process; some even become their official names. Take Ding Dong in Texas, for example, Eek in Alaska, and the very yummy Sandwich over in the UK. 

South Africa is also guilty of dorpies having questionable names (let alone nicknames!), which sound like the closest person standing nearby was asked to think of one. Take Tieties Bay in the Western Cape, Dronkvlei in KwaZulu Natal, or Phalaborwa in Limpopo, which means “better than the south”.

Although some smaller towns across the world have gotten away with making their nicknames official, there are many major cities around the world that still have their own catchy ones. Here’s the backstory behind a few of these interesting city nicknames:

The Lion City

The Lion City is a literal translation of singapura from which Singapore is derived. Singapura in Sanskrit means lion city: “lion” (singa) and “city” (pura). Historically, Singapore was once known as Temasek, until a Sumatran Prince saw a lion in Temasek and decided to call it Singapura. 

Singapore, as it is called today, is also known as “The Garden City” or “City in a Garden”, given the variety of parks and gardens — the most famous being the 158-year-old Singapore Botanic Garden with UNESCO World Heritage site status. 

Interesting city nicknames, Singapore
Singapore city skyline. Image: Envato

The Big Apple

New York, New York, a city so nice they named it twice is a buzzing, on-the-go cultural capital which also explains why it is also referred to as ‘The City That Never Sleeps’. However, of all its interesting city nicknames, “The Big Apple”, is one that has always worked well, especially when it comes to marketing it as a destination to visitors.

After a bit of digging, we found that the term was used in the 1800s to describe something of significant desire and ambition. But as the New York Public Library explains, in 1909, an author called Edward Martin associated it with New York, and it took off with the 1920s jazz culture.

New York City, USA midtown Manhattan skyline. Image: Envato

The Big Easy 

The origin as to how or why New Orleans earned “The Big Easy” nickname still remains somewhat obscure, but one of the most popular theories points to the late Times-Picayune gossip columnist ,Betty Guillaud, who allegedly coined it.

During the late 1960s, many began using the term to contrast how different life was (and still is) in “The Big Easy” compared to “The Big Apple”. The nickname captures New Orleans’ relaxed attitude, being a haven for struggling jazz and blues musicians, and its laid-back attitude toward alcohol consumption during the Prohibition.

Interesting city nicknames, New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana skyline. Image: Envato

The Mother City

South Africa also has its fair share of interesting city nicknames, too. Pretoria, for example, is referred to as the “City of Roses” (or “Snor City” by the younger generation) while Port Elizabeth has long-reigned as “The Windy City”.

Cape Town, however, goes by several affectionate names, but its most popular nickname by far is The Mother City. Many historians believe that Cape Town was dubbed as the mother of all our cities because it was the original South African city.

Another possible explanation comes from an article published in the 1930s, which claimed that it was the only city in South Africa that could be called a metropolis. The word “metropolis” is derived from the Greek word “metros”, which means mother, while the Greek word “polis” also means city, creating the term, ‘The Mother City’. 

Interesting city nicknames, Cape Town
Aerial view of Cape Town. Image: Envato

Interesting city nicknames

Can you guess which major destinations these interesting city nicknames refer to?

  • The Eternal City
  • The City of Lights
  • Venice of the North
  • The Holy City
  • Paris of the Nile
  • The Pink City
  • Pearl of the Orient
  • Auld Reekie

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Original Article Posted on The South African