Sometimes New York City nicknames feel as unique as the city itself and since I’m fortunate enough to call this incredible city home, I took it upon myself to collect the most popular NYC nicknames and decipher the meaning behind them.
If you find yourself curious about the most common New York City nicknames, and the meanings behind them, allow me to share this quick list. I hope you find it helpful!
Popular NYC Nicknames
#1. Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
The Big Apple is arguably the most common New York City nickname. It’s inevitable you’ve heard New York City called the Big Apple, but do you know where this popular NYC nickname comes from?
Well, we did some digging and got to the root of it.
The moniker first use can be traced to a column in the New York Morning Telegraph. A sports journalist was reporting on the abundance of horse races in New York and referenced the biggest price as “the big apple.”
Shortly after the newly minted NYC nickname started gaining traction but didn’t get cemented in NYC’s history until a clever 1970s advertising campaign. Through the popular campaign, an apple was used as New York City logo and the sentiment stuck.
To this day, you can’t get far without seeing an apple on t-shirts, posters or ads.
#2. The City That Never Sleeps
Another popular NYC nickname is The City That Never Sleeps. This nickname first appeared in 1912 in a Fort Wayne News article but didn’t rise to fame until the famous song “Theme from New York, New York” came out in 1977.
We’ve all heard Frank Sinatra’s version of the song but did you know it was originally written for and performed by Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese’s film New York, New York (1977)?
To this day, the Theme from New York, New York is one of the most popular songs about NYC. Even more impressive, the part about waking up in a city that never sleeps earned NYC a new nickname.
I want to wake up in a city
That never sleeps
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
#3. The Empire State
This notable New York City nickname is hotly debated by puzzled historians to this day. Some attribute NYC’s nickname as the Empire State to none other than George Washington.
The story goes, when Washington noticed the advantageous geographical position of Manhattan prior to the Battle of New York (1776) he allegedly remarked “Surely this is the seat of the empire!” However, this statement has yet to be proven.
Some historians attribute this NYC nickname to a newspaper article published in 1836, wherein New York City is referred to as “the Empire City of the New World” due to its impressive population.
Regardless how this popular NYC moniker was coined, one thing is certain — it’s here to stay. This particular nickname has been so ingrained in the city’s culture and is believed to refer to NYC’s overall state of wealth and resources.
#4. Gotham City
At first glance, it’s easy to assume that NYC’s popular nickname as Gotham City comes from the beloved Batman comics — but did you know the nickname actually predates the comic?
The first mention of New York City being tied to Gotham is documented in 1807 by Washington Irving. Irving was a famous author and ringleader of a group of literary minds that organized a periodical called the Salmagundi.
The group published essays about “the thrice renowned and delectable city of Gotham.” Referring to the village of Gotham, Nottinghamshire — a town supposedly inhabited by fools, as the mythical legend goes.
Want to know why the people of Gotham were considered fools? Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down while doing research.
However, there’s no denying that a periodical published in 1807 wasn’t enough for the nickname to stick. No, this interesting New York City nickname didn’t become synonymous with the city until the mastermind behind the Batman comics, Bill Finger, added his touch.
Have you ever wondered why Finger named a city so heavily influenced by New York as Gotham, rather than call the city by its name? The answer might surprise you.
Finger explained that changing the location from Manhattan to the invented Gotham City made the setting for Batman more vague. He wanted his readers to identify with the story, regardless of the city they lived in. But how exactly did he come up with the name? Well, he used a phone book.
Finger said he originally intended to call the city by another name but after flipping through the New York City phone book he came across Gotham Jewelers and settled the matter then and there.
The first mention of Gotham City occurs in 1940 (Batman #4), up until then it was pretty much a nameless but obvious New York City.
Today, Gotham is synonymous with NYC and locals have fully embraced the nickname.
This popular New York City nickname has a rather comical genesis. It was coined by early Dutch settlers who came to the New World (specifically New York City) and wore a style of pant that rolled up just below the knee. These pants were called “knickerbockers” or “knickers” for short.
But here’s the kicker, you know who’s responsible for this nickname? The very man behind “Gotham City.” I’m serious, Washington Irving is responsible for this popular New York City nickname too!
This NYC nickname didn’t start taking off until around 1809 when Washington Irving wrote a satiric “A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty” under the pseudonym Knickerbocker.
The book referred to “Knickerbockers” as New Yorker that could trace their ancestry to original Dutch settlers.
Soon after, regardless of ancestry, it was nearly impossible to separate New York City from the moniker Knickerbocker. In fact, NYC’s NBA team is called the New York Knicks (short for Knicherbockers).
#6. The Melting Pot
The Melting Pot is a less common New York City nickname, but it’s worth knowing about. It’s attributed to the abundance of cultural and ethnic diversity within the city.
On any given day you’re likely to hear a language you’ve never heard before simply walking the streets because there are more than 200 languages spoken in NYC. Some folks say there are more than 800 languages spoken in the Big Apple but I wasn’t able to find evidence to support that.
Regardless, 200+ language is nothing to scoff at. This is the reason New York City is often considered the most linguistically diverse city in the world, it’s a true melting pot. Hence the (warranted) NYC nickname.
Did you know? than 37% of New Yorkers are born outside the the United States. In fact, 4 out of 10 New York City households (nearly half) speak a language other than English.
#7. New Amsterdam
A historic fact about New York City that few folks know is that NYC was originally called New Amsterdam. The reason? The island of Manhattan (as we know it today) was settled by the Dutch and became an extension of the Dutch Republic.
However, the English took the island in 1664 and renamed it after the Duke of York. The city has been called New York City ever since 1664.
But fret not, if you find yourself nostalgic for the good old “New Amsterdam” days, take a stroll down Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side and experience the charming buildings reminiscent of Amsterdam’s charming triangular-shaped homes.
#8. America’s City
New York City is often called America’s City because it’s the most populous city in the country by far.
Home to more than 8.5 million residents, 1 in every 38 people living in America live in New York City. To put it another way, New York City has a greater population than 40 states. Wow!
Trust me, I completely understand the allure, there’s no place in the world like New York City so it’s hard to blame folks for wanting to call this magical city home. To that end, “America’s City” makes complete sense to me.
Popular New York City Nicknames (Post Summary)
- The Big Apple
- The City That Never Sleeps
- The Empire City & Empire State
- The Melting Pot
- New Amsterdam
- America’s City
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I hope you enjoyed this quick roundup of the most common NYC nicknames. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.