A City By Any Other Name

“The Biggest Little City in the World”
– sign welcoming people to Reno, Nevada

Here’s a quick litmus test about your origins. When you tell someone you are going to The City (and you say it so that “The” is capitalized, not as if you are going into town) which city do you have in mind?

Referring to The City as if it were the only metropolitan area worthy of that label probably says as much about you as it does about the municipality you describe. For me growing up in mid-state Illinois, Chicago would have been my City. When we lived in Maryland, though, I learned from friends who grew up on the east coast that nearby Washington and Baltimore did not really count. THE City was New York. And then on a vacation to San Francisco we all bought local sweatshirts once we arrived near the waterfront (cooler than the suburb where we had stayed). The sleeve and front of mine read “The City” and they didn’t mean New York.

One of the best known welcome signs in the US

One of the best known welcome signs in the US

I have been considering the various “aliases, sobriquets and slogans” which have become attached to various cities in the US. Many have been selected by local governments or tourism boards. Sometimes a chamber of commerce decides it is better to be known and remembered for a piquant phrase than not remembered at all. For example, residents of DeKalb, IL, are proud that a local inventor’s fortune came from his improved patent for barbed wire. Of course this should be the Barbed Wire Capital of the World. But that tagline? Let’s just say it’s a good conversation starter!

Other nicknames have sprung up from the people who live there. These might come from local history or from a sense of local identity. Or they might have been created by visitors or former residents. These can be positive or derisive.

Reading through a collection of city nicknames can be quite entertaining. It is clear that copyrights are not taken seriously; duplicates occur and I doubt anyone has wasted money sorting out which city is more entitled to a label. It is also clear that places go to great lengths to isolate what makes them unique. Especially mid-sized cities have designated themselves rather grandiosely as Capitals of the World in various categories; Horseradish, Spinach, Pinto Beans, Barbecued Mutton, Blueberry, and Catfish are only a few. It turns out there is at least one rival Barbed Wire Capital of the World also. Who do they think they are, just because they have a Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, KS?

Many cities call themselves Queen City, or perhaps a variation such as Queen City of the West. Rose Cities are not as unique as they might like to think.

Sometimes a city’s inspiration is remarkably similar to that of another – or two or three. I heard long ago about the People’s Republic of Cambridge (MA). But I see that People’s Republics have also crystallized (informally I expect) in Berkeley (CA), Boulder (CO), Davis (CA) and Santa Monica (CA). Mostly university areas. Hmmm.

In California, Silicon Valley towns are competing for a piece of the regional pie. San Jose is the Capital of Silicon Valley – but Sunnyvale is its Heart and Milpitas is its Crossroads.

Giving a city a nickname or tagline is serious business. Market specialists call it Branding now. It can make a big difference in how the city is perceived, and can have significant financial consequences. We all know which city claims “What happens here, stays here.” It was not called branding when Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote it but we all know that “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.” And Tombstone, AZ, maintains its Wyatt Earp swagger, claiming it is “The town too tough to die.”

How good a student of branding are you? Here are some nicknames (some official, some popular) for cities in the US. Some cities are named here more than once. I will post the answers below. Enjoy!

This silvery sculpture is called Cloud Gate. Though it looks like a bean, it is not in Beantown.  Photo by Boykov

This silvery sculpture is called Cloud Gate. Though it looks like a bean, it is not in Beantown.
Photo by Boykov

  1. Windy City
  2. City on a Hill
  3. Golden Gate City
  4. Big Apple
  5. The Big Pineapple
  6. Gateway to the West
  7. Duke City (also Burque)
  8. Tinseltown
  9. Big Easy
  10. The Hub
  11. City of Angels
  12. City of the Big Shoulders (Carl Sandburg)
  13. Mile High City (even before recent legalization)
  14. Big Peach
  15. Motor City
  16. Gotham
  17. Frisco
  18. Sin City
  19. Shaky Town (two cities share this)
  20. Motown
  21. Conch Republic
  22. Big Orange
  23. Beantown
  24. City by the Bay
  25. Lost Wages
  26. Emerald City

Below “Long Island meets New Jersey in the neutral territory of New York City” as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel sing “New York State of Mind.”

1. Chicago 2. Boston 3. San Francisco 4. New York City 5. Honolulu 6. St. Louis 7. Albuquerque 8. Hollywood 9. New Orleans 10. Boston 11. Los Angeles 12. Chicago 13. Denver 14. Atlanta 15. Detroit 16. New York City 17. San Francisco 18. Las Vegas 19. Los Angeles and San Francisco 20. Detroit 21. Key West 22. Los Angeles 23. Boston 24. San Francisco 25. Las Vegas 26. Seattle

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

8 May 2014

About Travel Unites

A travel agent since 1994, I want people to get together for greater understanding across boundaries.
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3 Responses to A City By Any Other Name

  1. Johnc265 says:

    Hello there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing! ebekcegbkabk

  2. Johnd757 says:

    Thanks for the article, is there any way I can receive an email whenever you publish a new update? kecdgcdddkke

    • Thanks for writing. The easiest way for you to receive posts is for you to sign up on the blog page. There is a link at the top right of each post where you can sign up to receive each post by email. Please put your own details in that, and away you go!


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