A Brief History
On September 3, 1783, the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War was signed in Paris, France, thus becoming known as the Treaty of Paris. Paris is often referred to as “The City of Light,” and many other cities have notable nicknames as well. Here 10 are listed. (This list is American-centric because there seem to be more nicknamed cities in the U.S. than in other parts of the world.)
10. Hershey, Pennsylvania, “Chocolate City”
People love chocolate, so Hershey must be one of the most beloved cities in the U.S. The motto of the city is “The Sweetest Place On Earth.” Founded by the candy magnate Milton S. Hershey, it is also the home to the Hershey chocolate factory and an excellent amusement park called Hershey Park. History and Headlines Notes: Washington, D.C. has often been referred to by African-Americans as “Chocolate City” due to the large African-American population there. In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, made a comment about returning New Orleans to a “Chocolate City,” meaning he intended to get the displaced African-American population back into the city. History and Headlines Fact: The funk group Parliament released an album in 1975 titled Chocolate City which had a song by the same name on it. (Parliament was referring to Washington, D.C.)
9. Cleveland, Ohio, “The Best Location in the Nation.”
Needless to say, this example is a self-named nickname. Clevelanders were referring to the ideal location of their city between the coal and iron-ore producing parts of the country and the easy access to transportation. The rest of the U.S. often refers to Cleveland as “The Mistake on the Lake.” The other nickname Cleveland once had was “The Forest City,” a name given to it by the first settlers who encountered a thickly wooded area. Today Clevelanders like to think of Cleveland as “The Birthplace of Rock and Roll.” Honorable mention to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “Steel City.”
8. Las Vegas, Nevada, “Sin City.”
During the Prohibition Era, the only place you could gamble was playing bingo at church. Then during the Great Depression, Nevada legalized gambling to provide a source of revenue for the state. Although Las Vegas itself does not allow prostitution, the oldest profession is legal in Nevada right outside the city limits. Appropriately, the city was created in its modern form by gangsters. Some say gangsters still run the place. Most likely Las Vegas was put on the Earth to give Wayne Newton, the self-proclaimed “Mr. Las Vegas” a place to hang out. Honorable mention to Reno, “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
7. Denver, Colorado, “Mile High City.”
Originally nicknamed for the fact that the city is a mile above sea level, Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana give “Rocky Mountain High” a whole new meaning. Need more be said?
6. Boston, Massachusetts, “Beantown.”
Apparently, all the good nicknames were taken, so Boston had to settle for “Beantown.” Actually, the nickname is derived from a popular regional dish of baked beans. Originally, it was only sailors and traders who referred to Boston by this nickname. Most importantly, though, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which is brewed there, is a national treasure, so the city should more appropriately be nicknamed “Lagertown!”
5. Los Angeles, California, “La-La Land” or “The City of Angels.”
Obviously, the second nickname listed is the Spanish to English interpretation of the name of the city. The first sobriquet listed is perhaps more appropriate, especially given the proximity to Hollywood and all the fruitcakes known to live there.
4. New Orleans, Louisiana, “The Big Easy.”
The birthplace of (Dixieland) Jazz, musicians found it easy to find work in “Nawlins.” Also one of the least expensive of the big cities to live in, people find it easy to live there. Of course, it was easy to find a speakeasy in New Orleans during Prohibition. From personal experience, it was also easy for the author to find a delicious meal there.
3. Paris, France, “City of Light.”
Something about Paris certainly makes other cities want to be “The Paris of Something or Another.” There is Beirut, once known as the “Paris of the Middle East;” Saigon, “The Paris of the Orient;” Detroit, “The Paris of the Midwest;” Pittsburgh, “The Paris of Appalachia;” and Buenos Aires, “The Paris of South America.” There are even more! And finally there is Paris, the “Paris of Paris.” Attractions such as the Louvre (one of the largest art museums in the world), the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Trimphe bring in millions of tourists every year. The nickname “City of Light” apparently comes from the role Paris played in education and learning during the Age of Enlightenment. Another source may be the fact that Paris was one of the first places to be brightly lit by thousands of gas lamps before other cities followed suit.
2. Rome, Italy, “The Eternal City.”
Rome is probably the pigeon capital of the world, but for some reason it is not called “Pigeon City.” Instead it’s nickname “The Eternal City” is almost as old as Rome itself. The ancient Romans called their city such because they believed that no matter what happened in the rest of the world, no matter if their empire rose or fall, the city of Rome would go on forever. And guess what? They were right. Even today all roads lead to Rome, but driving there is a nightmare for Americans unfamiliar with Demolition Derby.
1. New York City, “The Big Apple” or “Gotham.”
New York City received its most famous nickname in the 1920s from a sports writer who wrote a horse racing column known as Around the Big Apple. He derived that name after talking to stable boys who were taking horses out to feed them “big apples.” Today other than apples, the city is also famous for its cheesecake.
And finally an honorable mention to Dresden, Germany, “The Florence on the Elbe.”
Prior to World War II, Dresden on the river Elbe was considered the most beautiful city in Germany. Its architecture, culture and humanism reminded of the Italian cities of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was a symbol of all that was best in Germany. Then, in a controversial move by the Allies, it got bombed and everything destroyed. Today much of Dresden has been reconstructed, and the city can once again go by its nickname.
Question for students (and subscribers): Can you think of any others? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on September 3, please see the History and Headlines article: “September 3, 1941: Infamous, Notorious and Reviled Products (Zyklon B).”
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For more information, please see…
Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World. Lonely Planet, 2009.