Informal names of towns and cities

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Many towns and cities have an informal name in addition to their official name – in much the same way as many individuals have a nickname, i.e., an additional name by which they are known among family members and friends. These additional names for towns and cities are formed in a variety of ways, many though not all, referring to, or reflecting, a prominent or distinctive feature of the town or city, of its history, or of its inhabitants. The purpose of this page is simply to illustrate the variety.

  • A city’s or town’s informal name may be a shortened form of its (often rather long) official name, e.g., Philly (for Philadelphia); Brid (for Bridlington, in East Yorkshire); Frisco (for San Francisco – though its present-day inhabitants seem to dislike this nickname, and not to like the alternative, San Fran, much better); Brum (for Birmingham); San or Santi (for Santiago); Bomo (for Bournemouth).
  • A city’s or town’s informal name may refer to or reflect a prominent or distinctive feature of, e.g., its location, its history, or its inhabitants, such as
    • a distinctive natural feature, e.g., City of Four Rivers (Turin, the four rivers are the Po and three of its tributaries); Mile High City (Denver, capital of Colorado, situated exactly 5280 feet (i.e., one mile) above sea level); City of Trees (Boise (pronounced as two syllables, ‘bɔɪ siː/ (BOY-see)), capital of Idaho; from the French, boisé, ‘wooded’); City of the Island Hills (Santiago, capital of Chile).
    • a feature of its weather or climate, e.g., The Windy City (Port Elizabeth, in South Africa); Rain City (Vancouver); Rain City (Seattle).
    • a distinctive industry or trade, e.g., Motor City (Detroit); Steel City (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania); Cottonopolis (Manchester, a 19th century nickname); Porkopolis (Cincinnati, from the large number of Cincinnatians employed in pork packing.).
    • a personal quality (believed to be) widely possessed among its inhabitants, e.g., The Big Easy (New Orleans, from the lax attitude of its inhabitants to alcohol consumption during Prohibition); The Friendly City (Port Elizabeth, in South Africa).
    • a feature of its built environment, e.g., The City of a Hundred Spires (Prague); The Red City (Bologna); The City of Dreaming Spires (Oxford); Granite City (Aberdeen); City of Churches (Adelaide).
    • a significant historical event or figure associated with the city, e.g., Birthplace of Democracy (Athens); Cradle of the Renaissance/Culla del Rinascimento (Florence); Luther’s City/Lutherstadt (Wittenberg - Lutherstadt was an unofficial name for Wittenberg until 1938, when it became part of the official name, Wittenberg’s official name now being Lutherstadt-Wittenberg); Birthplace of Italian Liberty/Culla del Risorgimento (Turin).
    • the central or pre-eminent position of a city within its region, e.g., Pearl of the Danube (Budapest), Capital of the Alps (Grenoble); Daughter of the Desert (Marrakech); Pearl of the Mediterranean (Alexandria); Pearl of the Adriatic (Dubrovnik).
    • the resemblance of a town or city to a more famous city or location, e.g., Venice of the North (Amsterdam); Paris of the Nile (Cairo); The Europe of Australia (Melbourne); Venice of the North (Bruges); Little London (Gothenberg); Athens of the North (Edinburgh); Paris of South America (Buenos Aires).

See also Place Names Derived From Names Of Persons.