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From 'City of Gold' to 'The Big Apple'-this is how popular cities got their nicknames

Johannesburg, South Africa during sunset. Picture: File

Johannesburg, South Africa during sunset. Picture: File

Published Jan 28, 2022


Ever wondered why New York is labelled “The Big Apple” or Johannesburg’s the “City of Gold”?

Hotel company, Jury’s Inn, have done extensive research on how 100 iconic cities worldwide got their nicknames.

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Take a look at some of the six cities across Africa:

Johannesburg – City of Gold

Johannesburg sits on the edge of the world's largest known gold deposit. Gold was traded here for centuries before the area was first declared open for public digging in 1886.

Maputo – City of Acacias

Maputo is known as the City of Acacias due to many of its streets and avenues commonly being bordered by lush acacia trees.

Rabat – The Washington of North America

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This capital city is nicknamed the Washington of North Africa because of its wide boulevards, parks, monuments, embassies, and government buildings.

Khartoum – Triangular Capital

This nickname is thanks to the nearby Blue Nile and the White Nile rivers that combine into the single Nile River, forming a triangular shape. The Nile River then flows northward into Egypt.

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Antananarivo – City of Thousands

The capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, is named the ‘City of Thousands’ in honour of the thousands of soldiers who guarded the city in the seventeenth century at the time of a Malagasy King named Andrianjaka.

Kusami – Garden City of West Africa

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Thanks to its beautiful green areas, Ghana’s second largest city Kusami earned the name of ‘Garden City of West Africa’ which dates back to the 1940s.

In the UK:

Oxford – The City of Dreaming Spires

Known globally for its prestigious university, Oxford caught the eyes of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, who gave the city this nickname in his poem ‘Thyrsis’, in reference to the spectacular architecture of the university buildings.

Manchester – The Rainy City

Up in the North-West of the UK, Manchester has developed a reputation for being one of the wettest cities in the country, earning it the nickname ‘the Rainy City’.

Historically, it was believed that the reliably damp weather was a helping hand in the success of Manchester’s cotton industry since it provided the ideal humidity for cotton’s processing.

Despite its reputation, recent findings show Manchester to be drier than several other UK cities, but nevertheless the popular nickname has stuck.

In Europe:

Paris – the City of Love

Love is always in the air in Paris, with art and romanticism deeply rooted in Parisian culture.

The city’s beautiful backdrops and sensational settings ooze romance, earning it arguably one of the most famous city nicknames of all.

Milan – Fashion Capital of the World

Hosting its first fashion week all the way back in 1958, Milan has always been a key player in fashion.

Over the years it gained a reputation for its more stylish and affordable fashion.

Milan is now home to some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Prada, and Valentino, and continues to attract the best in the business.

In Asia and Oceania

Shanghai – The Magic City

Japanese writer, Shōfu Muramatsu, first mentioned this name for Shanghai in his novel ‘Mato’ in 1924, which depicted Shanghai as a dichotomic city where both light and darkness existed. This contemporary nickname is known widely amongst the youth of China.

Mumbai – The City of Dreams

Home to Bollywood, the charm and appeal of the films and the lifestyles that are portrayed are often associated with Mumbai as a whole.

Alongside this, many migrants move to Mumbai in search of a better life in general – to ‘follow their dreams’.

Due to this, there is a blatant attraction to the city of Mumbai, earning it the nickname of ‘The City of Dreams’.

In North America

Chicago – The Windy City

Chicago is not actually the windiest city in the US (this title actually belongs to Dodge City, Kansas).

Instead, this city was given its name after an editor of the “New York Sun,” published the phrase in reference to the ‘city’s full-of-hot air politicians who were advocating and wooing organizers to hold the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in the city instead of in New York.

New York – The Big Apple

Back in the 1920s, sports reporter John J. Fitz Gerald began using the phrase throughout his horse racing columns after hearing two stable hands refer to New York City’s racetracks as the ‘big apples’.

The term then spread and was used to indicate the ‘big leagues’ that New York City was home to, not just in sport but in music and nightlife too.

The term later fizzled out of use but was revived in the 1970s as part of a tourism advertising campaign.

It is now arguably one of the most well-known city nicknames globally.

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