How 6 Famous Places Earned Their Nicknames

Ever travelled to New York and wondered just how and why it has come to be known as The Big Apple? Or been heading to England and had someone mention you were off to Old Blighty? Cities and countries the world over have catchy nicknames and epithets, but it’s not always obvious as to why such places received these names.

Never fear, loyal reader – we’ve taken a look at a few of the world’s well-known cities and countries and just how their quirky nicknames came to be.

6. New York, The Big Apple 

It’s not hard to see how New York City received the tagline ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ – just check out Times Square at midnight and you’ll see the truth of this statement. But how it came to be known as The Big Apple isn’t so obvious.

Opinion appears to be divided as to just how the city got its nickname, but in 1997, the mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, issued a press release which stated the term had been popularized by a sports writer in the 1920s, who overheard stablehands referring to New York racecourses as “the big apple” and named his racing column after this phrase.

Giuliani said that in the 1930s jazz musicians began to refer to the city as The Big Apple, as a reference to it being the jazz capital of the world, and the nickname was later popularized by a New York Convention and Visitors Bureau campaign in the 1970s.

Travellers looking to head to The Big Apple for themselves can get a taste of the city in less than a minute.

5. Paris, the City of Light (La Ville Lumière)

Ah Paris, the famed City of Love – with the beautiful buildings, great food and wine, and a gorgeous language, it’s not hard to see how the city earned that nickname. But Paris is also known as ‘La Ville Lumière’, or the City of Light.

Author David Downie says the first documented reference to Paris as ‘Ville Lumière’ was in a 1904 book, the content of which no one can now remember. The nickname is said to have stemmed from a number of sources, including the idea that Paris was a centre of culture and learning during the Enlightenment, its abundant gas street lamps in the late 1800′s, and the switch to electric lighting, Downie writes.

Readers wanting to see how our first two nicknamed cities fare against each other can check out Paris versus New York – vive la difference!

4. Rome, the Capital of the World

The Eternal City gave its name to the Roman Empire which, at its greatest extent, stretched from Europe to North Africa and the Middle East. The capital city of the Empire until 402 AD, Rome was once considered to be so important that it was called ‘Caput Mundi’, or the Head or Capital of the World, Jonathan J. Arnold writes.

The city played an important part in the mythology of the Empire, supposedly named after the first king and Rome’s founder, Romulus. With the whole historic centre of Rome designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has been, as UNESCO says, linked from its foundation with the history of humanity, including as the “spiritual capital of the Christian world”, from the fourth century AD.

Thinking of visiting the Capital of the World? Check out this video of Rome beyond the Coliseum

3. England, Old Blighty

It’s a bit of an old one, but you may hear the English refer to their country as ‘Old Blighty’, a nickname that calls back to the trenches in World War I. While the phrase was popularized during this period, including by war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, it originally came from the British occupation of India, according to none other than the Oxford Dictionary.

The dictionary says the origin of the word was from an alteration of the Urdu word, ‘bilayati’, meaning foreign or European, itself from the Arabic ‘wilayati’, meaning district or dominion. Several sources say soldiers in the Indian Army picked up the word and began to use it to refer to ‘back home’ or England.

Those thinking of heading to Old Blighty for themselves could check out A Cheatsheet of 10 English Towns You Need To Visit.

2. Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun

Ever wondered why the Japanese flag depicts the sun? Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun, and our closest star plays an important part in Japanese mythology.

Apparently, the name ‘Japan’ is the Chinese pronunciation of characters which translate to “sun-origin”, since Japan was to the East of China – where the sun rose, Ju Brown and John Brown write. The Japanese pronunciation is apparently Nihon.

Japanese intellectual Motoori Norinaga wrote that Japan came to be known as the Land of the Rising Sun not only because was it located where the sun rose when viewed from Western countries, but also due to the legend that Japan was created by the parents of the Sun Goddess, and that the imperial line could trace its lineage to her.

And if you’re wondering about the whys and wherefores of Japanese architecture, you can check out Why Japanese Architecture Is How It Is. 

1. Shanghai, the Pearl of the Orient and the ‘Lady of Negotiable Affection’ of the Orient

Shanghai is apparently the largest city by population in the world, with more than 24 million people living in the city in 2014. The city is seen as a global financial leader, but it has had its fair share of nicknames in the past, both flattering and not so flattering.

It has been called the (fairly patronising) Paris of the East and the Pearl of the Orient, a title apparently shared with Hong Kong and Manila, but it was also reportedly once known as the Whore of the Orient, or to paraphrase Sir Terry Pratchett, the ‘Lady of Negotiable Affection’ of the Orient. This nickname, around during the 1920s and 1930s, was due to its being a port city, bustling with activity, and for its connection with gangsters, drugs and prostitution, according to author Harriet Sergeant.

The literal meaning of Shanghai is in fact ‘City by the Sea’, which is much nicer, and probably more representative of modern Shanghai.

Sign up for a no-cost no-spam traveler account to see hidden VIP trip prices, earn some social conscience karma points, and get in on some awesome prizes too!

Wait, before you go...

For more great content, VIP prices and social karma points, create a Traveler account on GuideAdvisor for free.

Are you a guide or an operator? Click here.

Privacy Policy

Join GuideAdvisor Now.
3 great reasons!

  • Find Guides

  • Get VIP Deals
  • Win Prizes
  • Give Back
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • Reach Travelers

  • Be Seen
  • Connect Directly
  • No Commission

I'm a traveler I'm a Guide