Posted by: nancycurteman | January 20, 2021

Origins of New York City’s Nicknames

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Readers of the Lysi Weston Travel Mystery series are familiar with one of my main characters, Grace Wright. She is a native of Harlem, New York. My next novel is set in New York City and Grace will visit her home town. In my novel she will often refer to New York City by its nicknames. I thought it might be interesting to share the origins of the city’s many nicknames. So here we go.

  • The Big Apple is the city’s most popular nickname. This nickname was first popularized in the 1820s by sports writer John J FitzGerald. Fitzgerald had heard African-American stable workers allude to New York’s racing industry as “the big apple.” Everyone from the 1930s Harlem jazz musicians to 1970 tour companies promoted the nickname.
  • The Concrete Jungle term was first used by a British zoologist, Desmond Morris in his book , “The Human Zoo.” The nickname was solidified as New York’s own in the 2009 worldwide hit, Empire of Mind.
  • The City that Never Sleeps originally referred to the bowery but in 1979 Frank Sinatra’s hit song New York, New York sang of the city that never sleeps and so did everyone else. The nickname stuck.
  • Gotham, in old Anglo-Saxon days meant “Goat’s Town.” The rather macabre nickname is also associated with Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” of headless horseman fame. Irving created a nickname for New York that is now over two hundred years old. Also, we all know that Gotham is Batman’s hangout.
  • Metropolis is associated with Superman. Comic legend, Frank Miller explained that “Metropolis is New York in the daytime; Gotham is New York at night.”

New York City has many nicknames. Some originated among New Yorkers, some originated long ago. The nicknames all have interesting origins.


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