40 Most Famous New York Nicknames

Whether it’s Frank Sinatra regaling us to the iconic tune of “New York, New York” or Alicia Keys on the piano paying tribute to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, the city of New York has awed and will continue to awe millions of people across generations the world over, for the sheer scale of its magnificence.

With over 20 million residents in the metropolis, New York stands out as America’s most populous city. New York is the world’s center of finance, marked by the fact that it is the city with the most billionaires globally, with 107, many of whom can be found in the imposing skyscrapers of Wall Street. It is also an urban agglomeration of densely populated boroughs and linguistically diverse cultures with over 800 different languages spoken there.

Originally known as “New Amsterdam” due to its early Dutch settlers who arrived around 1624, the city got renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York—who would become King James II of England—when it was seized from Dutch control by the British.

In this article, we will do a deep dive into the popular nicknames for New York. Keep on reading to learn more.

List of Known Nicknames for New York

Here are the most famous nicknames for New York City:

1. The Big Apple

Arguably, “The Big Apple” is New York’s most famous nickname. Its origin dates back to the 1920s in reference to the big apples rewarded at the many racing courses in and around New York City. However, it was only in 1971 that it became officially adopted as the city’s nickname following a successful ad campaign intended to attract tourists. Over the years it has also taken on the meaning of a cynosure and something desirable, like the apple of one’s eye.

2. Gotham

The name “Gotham” comes from old English and translates to “goat home.” Though most people associate it with the Batman Universe, this nickname for New York City was first used in 1807 by Washington Irving in his Salmagundi Papers.

3. The City That Never Sleeps

Along with over a dozen cities, New York bears the moniker “The City That Never Sleeps” partly because—as the New York Post puts it—it never shuts the hell up. Frank Sinatra would eventually cement the city’s status as “the city that never sleeps” in his 1979 cover, “Theme from New York, New York.”

4. Empire State / Empire City

The origins of New York’s nickname as the “Empire State” remain unknown, although it was adopted in the 1800s. One explanation is that it acquired the moniker because of its wealth and variety of resources. The nickname appeared on New York license plates from 1951 through the mid-1960s. It would make a return in 2001 on New York license plates. Its nickname as the “Empire City” is derived from George Washington in the alleged quote, “Surely this is the seat of the empire,” though it was first published in an 1836 newspaper as “the Empire City of the New World.”

5. Metropolis

New York’s nickname as “Metropolis” takes its origin from the fictional DC comics universe, which is an idealized version of New York at its best and the supposed home of Superman.

6. Concrete Jungle

Merriam Webster defines “concrete jungle” as “a modern city or urban area filled with large buildings and regarded especially as a harshly competitive, unwelcoming, or dangerous place.” In many aspects, New York fits this description. How the city took on this nickname is unclear, but the 2009 hit ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z and Alicia keys, referenced earlier, solidified New York’s status as the premier concrete jungle.

7. The Knickerbocker State

The term “Knickerbockers” comes from Dutch settlers who originally settled in New York in the 1600s and referred to the style of pants they wore, rolled up just below the knee. The name has become synonymous with New York, sometimes known as the “Knickerbocker State, ” the home of the New York Knicks, a professional basketball team based in Manhattan.

8. Modern Gomorrah

The biblical story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah tells of them as being filled with depravity and debauchery. The earliest reference to New York as a “Modern Gomorrah” was 1854. Still, it was popularized in 1875 by Thomas De Witt Talmage, a reverend at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, where he warned: “There are to-day, influences abroad, which, if unresisted by the pulpit and the printing-press, will turn New York and Brooklyn into Sodom and Gomorrah.”

9. The Melting Pot

New York is known as America’s “Melting Pot” because of its diversity. The term was coined in 1908 by Israel Zangwill as a metaphor to describe New York’s mix of many nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. With over 800 languages spoken in the city, there’s undoubtedly some merit to that moniker.

10. The Five Boroughs

Residents of New York will have no trouble placing New York’s nickname as “The Five Boroughs.” A borough is a smaller city within a massive metropolis. NYC has five of them, namely, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—each with dozens of neighborhoods lending their own local flavor. 

11. Excelsior State

New York’s nickname as the “Excelsior State” is derived from its motto, which is in Latin. It translates to “ever upward.” Excelsior was adopted as a motto in 1778 and featured on the state’s seal and flag.

12. Fun City

Fun City” as a nickname for New York dates back to the 1960s. The early days of Mayor John Lindsay’s administration in January 1966 saw the occurrence of a strike. While observing the whole affair from a helicopter, Lindsay said that he still thought New York was a “fun city.” This backfired quickly as the term soon became parodied, with “fun” applying to the darker elements of crime and sex shops. Charles Gillett’s 1970s “Big Apple” campaign effectively help end the city’s association with the nickname.

13. The Center of the Universe

Many cities and geographical locations around the world refer to themselves as “The Center of the Universe”; hence, New York is just one of several places with that moniker. With New York being a vast cultural meeting point and its reputation as a global financial powerhouse, the nickname is deserved.

14. Capital of the World

With the headquarters of the United Nations sited there, a diverse population is drawn from across the globe, an important center for international diplomacy and an established safe haven for global investors. New York is for these reasons and is more often described as the “Capital of the World.” The nickname sometimes takes the Latin form “Novum Caput Mundi,” meaning “New Capital of the World.”

15. The City of Neon and Chrome

Taking its name from Broadway, “The City of Neon and Chrome” comes from a musical titled “Rent.” It’s not difficult to see why, as the New York metropolis is filled with many neon lights and chrome structures illuminating the city and adding to its beauty.

16. New Orange

New Orange” is a defunct name from when the Dutch settled in New York. In 1673, the Dutch captured New York from the English and dubbed it New Orange in honor of William III of Orange. However, the city reverted to English control and its former name the following year.

17. The City So Nice They Named It Twice

In 1959, George Russell & His Orchestra released a song entitled “Manhattan.” 44 seconds into the song, vocalist Jon Hendricks says “New York, New York: a city so nice, they had to name it twice…” Another song performed and composed by singer-songwriter Gerard Kenny in 1978 which is an ode to New York is titled “New York, New York (So Good They Named It Twice).”

18. The Greatest City in the World

New York comes top in almost any metric available. Be it population, wealth, diversity—name it. In 2019, New York was voted the “greatest city in the world” per a survey of over 30,000 people from 48 cities worldwide, citing its cultural diversity. Many districts and landmarks in New York City are well known, including three of the world’s ten most visited tourist attractions in 2013.

19. America’s City

New York’s status as “America’s City” is mainly symbolic of how it became America’s premier city as the nation rallied around it in the aftermath of 9/11.

Other known nicknames for New York include:

20. NY

Short for New York.

21. NYC

An abbreviation for New York City.

22. The Hub of Transport

Due to its many subway and road systems to aid transit.

23. The Host of the World

For playing host to various notable sporting and political events.

24. The Cuisine Capital of the World

For having many notable restaurants with as many as 64 Michelin-star restaurants in the metropolis.

25. The City of Islands

For the number of small islands within the city’s borders.

26. Cab City

For the tens of thousands of taxis that ply New York’s roads.

27. Golden Door

A reference to how New York is a door to the rest of America and its opportunities.

28. New Amsterdam

So named by Dutch colonists before England captured it after a war in 1665.

29. Rotten Apple, or Big Rotten Apple

This distorts its “Big Apple” nickname and references the corruption that is so often associated with New York.

30. The Big Town

For its sheer size.

31. The City of Skyscrapers

For obvious reasons.

32. The City of Towers

Same as above.

33. The Crossroads of the World

For its heavily congested road and air traffic with as many as 3,000 flights going through the city daily.

34. The Corporate Capital of America

For its position as America’s center of all things business and finance.

35. The Metropolitan City

For its status as a metropolis.

36. The Money Town

For its vast wealth.

37. The Wonder City

For the awe, it inspires especially among first-time visitors to New York.

38. The Information City

It is America’s information center, from business to science and technology. 

39. The City of Orchestras

For having a large number of orchestras compared with other cities. 

40. The Headquarters of World Banking

For obvious reasons as New York is home to several internationally recognized banks.

There you have it. Are there any other nicknames for New York we have left out? Please include them in the comments below.

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Stephen Agwaibor is a writer, editor and journalist with an academic background in economics. His writing interests cover various topics, including science, politics, business and social commentary.
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