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Chicago's Nicknames

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What's in a name? Plenty! Take Chicago, for example. Have you ever thought about the origins of Chicago’s nicknames or even the meaning behind the word “Chicago?”“The Windy City” is “Second to None”which is why it is “My Kind of Town.” Which is your favorite?

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Welcome to the Smelly Onion!  - The most accepted origin of the name "Chicago" dates back to the 1700s from the Miami-Illinois Native Americans. “Shikaakwa”roughly translates to "smelly onion"- A name the tribe gave to the streams that grew leeks and onions in the watershed. The name stuck but evolved when the French explorer Robert de la Salle changed "Skikaakwa" to "Checagou".

The Windy City - The harsh wind off the lake and the wind tunnels created by the streets of buildings certainly make this a "windy city," but origins of this nickname derive from the metaphorical use of "windy" for "long-windedness" and "boastful".

During the mid-1800s Chicago was a very boastful city. Early uses of the term referring to Chicagoans as "windy" appear in Cleveland (1885) and Louisville (1886) newspapers.

However, it was made popular by Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun a paper published between 1833 and 1950, who wrote an editorial during the time Chicago and New York were competing to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. In the paper he referred to Chicago citizens and more specifically, the politicians as being full of hot air.

City of Bullets- A nickname referring to the crime in 1903.

City of Broad Shoulders or City of the Big Shoulders- This was taken directly from Carl Sandburg's 1916 poem "Chicago." See below:

"Hog butcher for the world,

Tool maker, stacker of wheat,
Player with railroads and the nation's freight handler;

City of the big shoulders."

Hog butcher for the world- This was also taken directly from Carl Sandburg's poem "Chicago." See above.

City in the Garden- In the 1830s, Chicago's emerging government adopted the motto "Urbs in horto," a Latin phrase meaning "City in a Garden." Stroll along Michigan Avenue or State Street and take a moment to stop and smell the marigolds during the summer- there are plenty.

Paris of the Prairie- This name was given when Daniel Burnham designed the first visionary urban plan for a city. The 1909 Chicago plan, which included wide boulevards and parks similar to Paris, incorporated some of his plans; however, due to the Great Depression, much of it was not completed.

The Third Coast –As a reference to Chicago's long Lake Michigan shoreline and the idea that people are drawn to the idea of not being landlocked and being near a coast. This nickname was recently made especially popular with the book “The Third Coast: Chicago’s chapters in the book of American culture”by Thomas Dyja.

The Second City- This name was originally an insult used in a 1950s article by New Yorker A.J. Liebling while he was working in Chicago.  Liebling thought that Chicago was a second class city with second class citizens. Since the 1950s Chicago has transformed this name to mean "Second to None". Once the Chicago Second City Comedy troupe adopted the name, it helped transform the image of the second city into a more positive one.

The City that Works- This was a nickname that came from Mayor Richard Daley saying "This is a working city, an immigrant city, and there's just something about the Blackhawks that inspires everyone out there. They work at it. They give 100 percent on the ice, and that's what Chicago's all about.”-Chicago Tribune.

"My Kind of Town"- According to the song "My Kind of Town”made popular by Frank Sinatra, his kind of town is Chicago. Now everyone knows Chicago is their kind of town.

"That Toddling Town"- According to the song "Chicago" made popular by Frank Sinatra. The song talks about traveling the world, but finding comfort and rest in one’s hometown –Chicago.

"Chi-city"- A name used by Kanye West in the song "Homecoming" and by Common in the son "Chi-City". Both artists grew up in Chicago. Both songs talk about life in Chicago.

Chi-beria- The record-cold weather of 2013-2014 spawned a new nickname on social media in reference to frigid Siberia.


 

Written by Mel Yonzon

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: September 8th, 2014
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