Here’s the thing about city nicknames: no matter where you go or who you talk to, those living in cities blessed with quirky monikers will tell you the same thing. The nicknames are dumb and nobody actually uses them. If you don’t believe it, call Manhattan “The Big Apple” to a subway rider and see if they keep a straight face.
And yet, despite locals begging you to leave their cities’ alter egos at the airport, these nicknames persist because they’re, for the most part, just so darn true. While residents tried burying the origins of these great city nicknames, history never forgets — this is how the world’s biggest cities got their second names.
1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (The City of Brotherly Love): Quaker William Penn wanted the city to be a happy place of tolerance, so he named it Philadelphia, which means brotherly love in Greek. Today, the city’s partly famous for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus during a 1968 football game.
2. Chicago, Illinois (Windy City): Anyone who’s watched a baseball game at Wrigley Field knows Chicago wind is no joke, but the nickname originated when a New York journalist suggested only wind came out of the mouths of Chicago’s do-nothing politicians.
3. London, England (The Big Smoke): Pea-soup fogs — thick, yellowish-green, smoke-like hazes — caused by soot and sulfur-dioxide were regular occurrences in the city until the mid-1900s, when various Clean Air Acts eliminated coal-burning causes.
4. Boston, Massachusetts (Beantown): When pilgrims set-up shop in Boston, they learned a few tricks from the Native Americans in the area, like how to bake some beans in molasses. Soon, baked beans became a local favorite
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5. Paris, France (The City of Love): In film and entertainment, Paris gets a good rep as a romantic city. Little cafes and gorgeous architecture just make hearts beat faster in the home of the Eiffel Tower. Romance is in the air. But that’s not its only nickname…
One of the first European cities to put gaslights along the streets, the City of Love is also called the City of Lights! In addition to streetlights, it served as an early hot spot for the Age of Enlightenment. We’re talkin’ mental lights, too!
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6. Las Vegas (Sin City): Some suggest the nickname stems from a popular, early 20th-century brothel, but really, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that sticking a bunch of drunks with money to spare in close quarters leads to, well, sin.
7. New York City, New York (The Big Apple): In the 1800s, people used the term “big apple” to describe an “an object of desire and ambition.” The term attached itself permanently to New York City in the 1920s after the hub used it for a tourism campaign.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana (The Big Easy): The nickname took off in the 1970s when journalist Betty Guillaud compared the easy-going city to the Big Apple. Others suggest the term refers to how easy it is for musicians to snag gigs there.
9. Amsterdam, Netherlands (The Venice of the North): Over 150 canals wind through Venice, Italy, each teaming with singing gondoliers. Up in Amsterdam, they’ve got canals, too — 165 of ’em. So should Venice really be called the Amsterdam of the South?
10. Miami, Florida (Magic City): The city started out as a citrus plantation. Then a rich old widow, Julia Tuttle, bought it and built train stations, roads, and a resort there. Soon, as if by magic, the plot of land turned into one of the world’s most happenin’ places.
11. Seattle, Washington (Emerald City): When the city held a contest to give the city a slogan, California’s Sarah Sterling-Franklin submitted, “Seattle, the Emerald City. Seattle is the jewel of the Northwest…the many-faceted city of space, elegance, magic and beauty.”
The Seattle Times
12. Baltimore, Maryland (Charm City): Seeking to change the perception of a town once dubbed “Bodymore, Murderland,” the mayor hired a marketing exec, who wrote, “Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities.” Officials took charm and ran with it.
13. Barcelona, Spain (The City of Gaudi): The world-renowned architect Antoni Gaudi left his fingerprints all over the city, most notably on the Sagrada Familia, a tourist hot spot.
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14. Portland, Oregon (Rip City): During the Portland Trailblazers’ 1970 inaugural season, Jim Barnett ripped a game-winning basket against the Los Angeles Lakers. Elated, TV commentator Bill Schonely screamed “Rip City, all right!”
Tim LaBarge / NBA
15. Sydney, Australia (The Harbor City): Port Jackson serves as one of the world’s biggest natural harbors, and it’s home to the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Basically, the harbor is a life force for the city.
16. Detroit, Michigan (Motor City): Henry Ford was already living in Michigan when he had a killer idea for this thing called a car, so he just set up shop there and started pumping out vehicles. People looking for work then motored on over to the city.
17. San Francisco (Frisco): The abbreviation caught on in the late 1800s before being adopted by the Hells’ Angels and some low life degenerates. Those who live in the city where Tony Bennett left his heart might dole out a butt-whooping to anyone who uses the name.
18. Geneva, Switzerland (The Peaceful Capital): Besides the fact that Switzerland is neutral in all things war and aggression, Geneva boasts a ton of international organizations on its soil. And who can forget the peace-making Geneva Convention?
Swiss Embassy Kyiv / Twitter
19. Beijing, China (The Forbidden City): Looming the heart of the nation’s capital is the Forbidden City, an Imperial Palace that once housed emperors. Over time, the city sort of adopted the dominating structure’s name.
The origins of these cities’ nicknames were mostly lost to history, and the same can be said for many of the world’s most iconic brands. While we definitely know them, few of us are sure how they got those famous monikers.
Los Angeles Times
1. Amazon: After starting his company in 1994 and naming it “Cadabra” (as in “Abracadabra”), Jeff Bezos re-named his book and retail company Amazon a year later because his lawyer mistook the original name for “cadaver.” Yikes!
Eventually, Bezos landed on Amazon because it’s the largest river in the world, and he wanted his company to reflect its size with the tagline “Earth’s biggest bookstore.” He also liked the name because it would be first in alphabetical web listings.
2. Apple: Since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were both big fans of the Beatles, people used to think their infamous tech company was named after the band’s label, Apple Records. The two claimed that was a total coincidence.
The real inspiration for Apple came after Jobs visited an orchard in Oregon. He then suggested the name “Apple Computer,” which, oddly enough, Wozniak noted would be confused with the record label.
3. The GAP: In 1969, Donald and Doris F. Fisher opened the first Gap in San Francisco. They mainly sold Levi’s jeans and vinyl records targeted towards teens and young adults. So where’d the name come from?
The Fishers named their store after the generation gap between youths and adults! These days, the GAP sadly no longer sells vinyl records, but they’ve still got plenty of Denim! They’ve also expanded their company to include chains like Old Navy.
4. 7-Eleven: Founded in 1927 and originally called “Tote’m Stores” — because customers toted away their small-scale groceries rather than using carts — 7-Eleven changed its name in 1946 to reflect its new business hours from 7 am to 11 pm.
While nearly every 7-Eleven is open 24 hours per day now, and they’re better known for their Slurpees and coffee than actual groceries, the name has stuck due to its catchy rhyme.
5. Google: There are very few people in this world who don’t know what Google is; it has even become a synonym for doing research! It was originally called BackRub, however, so if its founders never changed the name, we would all be saying “let’s BackRub that.”
The company received its current name when co-founder Larry Page misspelled “Googol,” which is a digit followed by 100 zeros. “It turns out that most people misspell things,” said Page, which is why Google corrects spelling mistakes for all searches.
6. Starbucks: Established in 1971, founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker landed on the coffee company’s name after one of their friends mentioned that words beginning with the letters “ST” were considered bold and STrong.
Bowker, who is a writer, remembered the name of Captain Ahab’s first mate in Moby Dick was “Starbuck” and felt that it suited their company perfectly. To stick with the nautical theme, an old woodcut siren was chosen as the logo.
7. Samsung: They are mostly a phone company now, but when this Korean company was founded in 1938, they were simply a trading company. They then entered the electronics business in the 1960s and started producing household appliances and TVs.
Founder Lee Byung-Chul named his company Samsung because it means “Three Stars” or “Tristar” in Korean. He wanted his company to last forever like stars in the sky, and the number three represents something big, powerful, and bright in Korean culture.
8. Lego: The most popular building blocks in the world were created by a Danish carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1934. The company originally produced small wooden blocks with which one could build anything their heart desired.
The name Lego comes from the Danish phrase “Leg Godt,” which means “Play Well”, or “I Put Together” or “I Assemble” in Latin. LEGO didn’t create the colorful interlocking plastic bricks until 1949, but they’re still around 70 years later!
9. Skype: When Skype was released in 2003, it was the first internet video and audio calling service. It could create group calls and connect to home or mobile phones. It was a revolution for long-distance relationships and job interviews.
Originally called “sky peer-to-peer,” as in a way to connect people together from the “sky” wirelessly, the name was then shortened to “Skyper.” However, Skyper.com was already a registered domain, so its developers simply dropped the “r” at the end. Ta-da!
10. Twitter: In 2006, Jack Dorsey created an online SMS service that would update the texts instantly on a webpage. Its working name was “Status,” but Dorsey wanted to create a “buzzing” feeling when you heard the company’s name…
“We wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket,” Dorsey said. His team then came up with “Twitch,” but the word had some negative connotations, so they eventually settled on Twitter.
11. Facebook: Originally, Mark Zuckerburg created TheFacebook to connect students at Harvard University. Of course, nowadays his company has evolved into a lot more than a Harvard directory.
Once he turned it into a social media website for the whole world, Zuck dropped the “The” and rebranded Facebook.com. Still, TheFacebook.com will redirect you to the current version of the website, but Zuck wants to never speak of it again.
13. IKEA: Swedish Businessman Ingvar Kamprad started his multi-billion dollar company when he was only 17 years old. The name IKEA is actually an acronym.
It’s comprised of his initials, plus the first letters of his childhood farm, Elmtaryd, and his hometown, Agunnaryd. The hard-to-pronounce furniture pieces have interesting names, too, like bed textiles are named for plants and sofas for Swedish places.
14. Häagen Dazs: What started out as a supermarket ice cream brand quickly earned its own shops and is loved all over the world (especially by Bradley Cooper). However, what most people don’t know is that, despite the Dutch-sounding name, the brand isn’t Danish at all!
Ice cream man Reuben Mattus called his company Häagen-Dazs as a tribute to Denmark’s respect and good treatment of Jewish people during World War II. It doesn’t mean anything though, it just sounds Danish. Well, at least it stands out!
15. Six Flags: The lovable amusement parks are named after their first location: Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. Those flags refer to a crucial period in Texas’s storied history.
Those six flags represented regions that once governed the Lone Star State: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the U.S., and the Confederate States. While the Confederate flag no longer flies at any of the parks, the rest still wave above all 25 locations.
16. Panera: In 1987, Ken Rosenthal started the St. Louis Bread Company in Kirkwood, Missouri. As it grew and expanded into other states, the name changed to Panera Bread when bakery and café chain Au Bon Pain bought it in 1997.
Panera is made up of two words: Pane (Italian for Bread) and Era (Time). It’s also Latin for “breadbasket.” “We wanted a name that was an empty vessel we could put personality into,” said co-founder Ron Shaich, “and that’s how we ended up with Panera.”
With a name all set, executives set out to create logos, and, as you probably guessed it, they put as much thought into those as their unforgettable names. For Adidas, the current emblem represents a mountain, which symbolizes the obstacles every athlete needs to overcome in order to achieve greatness.
Baskin Robbins: There’s a very specific reason the letters “BR” are two different colors. If you look closely, you can see the pink portion spells out the number “31,” which is a hat tip to the number of ice cream flavors it originally offered. (The idea was that patrons could enjoy one new flavor for every day of the month.)
Hyundai: Most people look at Hyundai’s logo and see the letter “H,” which seems simple enough considering the brand’s name. However, that shape is actually supposed to represent two people shaking hands and closing a deal.
Pepsi: Pepsi actually paid over a $1 million to design its current logo. This might sound ridiculous to most people, but the designer claimed it has many secret meanings hidden within, including references to Pythagoras, the theory of relativity, and the golden ratio. The colors, of course, have always stood for the American flag.
Pinterest: Pinterest acts just like an online inspiration board, where users accumulate pictures of items they like and “pin” them to their pages. If you look carefully at the logo, you’ll notice the bottom the letter “P” looks just like the sharp tip of a pin.
Beats: Beats is an audio equipment company well known for high-quality headphones. If you look closely at the logo and use some imagination, it looks like the profile of a person wearing—you guessed it—headphones.
Toblerone: The famous chocolate company Toblerone is based in Bern, Switzerland, and the mountain on the front of the packaging contains a silhouette of a bear. This makes perfect sense, since Bern is sometimes called the “City of Bears.”
BMW: Some people have theorized that the blue and white circle in the center of BMW’s logo is supposed to be the rotating blades of a plane because of the company’s history of aviation technology. But it’s actually part of the Bavarian flag, the area of Germany where the company was started.
LG: The South Korean electronics and appliances company LG has a very unique logo, and it’s supposed to look like the face of a person. It symbolizes the business’s aspirations to achieve long-lasting relationships with its customers.
Coca-Cola: This is an interesting logo because the hidden symbol is completely unintentional. Inside the word “cola” is the Danish flag; the company actually used this coincidence to market itself in Denmark.
The shipping company’s logo seems like a simple one with only its name. However, if you take a second look at the space between the ‘E’ and the ‘X’, you would notice an arrow. With it so perfectly placed there, it is no wonder that the arrow represents speed and precision.
Toyota: A lot of people think this logo is a cowboy wearing a hat, but they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s supposed to be the eye of a needle with a thread passing through it. In its individual parts, the symbol also spells out the brand’s name.
Continental: Continental is known as a manufacturer for automobile tires. The company decided on a clever approach to its logo design by making the first two letters of the name look like a tire. Smart, subtle, and memorable!
Formula 1: Fans of racing will immediately recognize this Formula 1 design. At first glance, you just see the “F,” but the negative white space in between the red and black colors forms the number one. The red stripes, naturally, are meant to represent speed.
Salvador Dali was a modern artist known for his work in surrealism, cubism, and Dadaism, but he’s also known for being the kind of artist who doesn’t look a paid gig in the mouth. Case in point: he’s the designer responsible for the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops.
Sony Vaio: The first two letters of the name “Vaio” are supposed to symbolize a wave, which is representative of an analog signal. The last two letters look like the numbers one and zero, representing a digital signal.
Evernote: Evernote chose an elephant for its logo because elephants are known to have great memories. The note-taking application chose to fold down the elephant’s ear in the picture in order to represent the fold of a note.