20 Famous Nicknames for the City of Chicago

What are the nicknames of the city of Chicago?

Chicago is an international commerce, culture, education, and technology hub. Chicago has over 2.7 million inhabitants, making it the third most populous city in the United States and possibly the one with the most nicknames! Multiple references to the city exist in many songs, most famously in Kanye West’s tribute to the city in the classic “Homecoming.”

The widely accepted origin of the city’s name is that it comes from the Algonquin language: “Shikaakwa,” meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.” Early explorers said the lakes and streams around Chicago were full of wild onions, leeks, and ramps. Its first indigenous permanent settler, also considered its founder, was French-African explorer Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who settled there in 1779.

Did you know that in 1900, to divert sewage away from Lake Michigan’s freshwater supply, Chicago successfully reversed the flow of the Chicago River so it would empty into the Mississippi River? This was considered a hugely challenging and tremendous engineering feat ever completed and the world’s only backward-flowing river.

Popular Chicago Nicknames

You have learned a bit about Chicago City. Now, let us explore the most famous nicknames and other names used for Chicago city:

1. Windy City

This popular nickname of Chicago as the “Windy City” may ostensibly appear to mean that the city is the windiest in the United States. However, Chicago isn’t, as it only ranks twelfth for the fastest average wind speed. One of the earliest recorded references of Chicago being called “Windy City” was in 1876 and is attributed to the significant tornadoes that have been known to affect the city. This early reference originated from a Cincinnati paper and has been suggested to be a form of name-calling that lambasts Chicagoans for being full of hot air in a bid to prove that their city is the greatest in the Midwest.

2. Mud City

This, perhaps, may be the oldest nickname for Chicago. In its early days, Chicago was at the same level as Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. When it rained, streets would be filled with mud, giving Chicago the moniker of “Mud City.”

3. Second City

Chicago’s nickname as the “Second City” arises for several reasons. One was the rebuilding effort following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that set the city ablaze and saw the city practically built twice. Another refers to its 20th-century rivalry with New York, the country’s commercial nerve center. The former was bigger in size and population, so Chicago had to settle for second place.

4. Hog Butcher for the World

The famous poet Carl Sandburg named Chicago the “Hog Butcher for the World.” The city birthed modern food processing techniques and is so named. It had square miles of livestock pens, slaughterhouses, and packing and processing plants. These gave rise to its huge meat-processing industry, which at its peak turned eighteen million animals into edible and usable products in a single year.

5. City of the Big Shoulders

Like in the previous entry, Carl Sandburg also coined the term “City of the Big Shoulders” (also known as “City of Broad Shoulders”) in his poem “Chicago,” which was published in Poetry magazine in March 1914.

6. Chi-Town

The moniker “Chi-Town” (often pronounced as “Shy Town”) can be traced back to the 1900s. Chi is shortened from Chicago and recorded as a nickname for the city even earlier, in the 1890s. Several prominent uses helped popularize the term, including a 1975 song by country singer C.W. McCall, “Convoy,” and Kanye West in his 2009 song “Homecoming.”

7. The City That Works

The slogan “The city that works” has long been attributed to former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and describes Chicago as a blue-collar, hard-working city that ran relatively smoothly.

8. City in a Garden

In June 1837, Chicago adopted its official seal. At the bottom of the seal, a ribbon is inscribed with the city’s motto: “URBS IN HORTO,” Latin for “City in a Garden.” One explanation is that this reflected an appeal from the city’s first mayor, William Ogden. Shortly after he became mayor, the city fell into debt. Ogden paid it off by taking out personal loans and paying the bills. He also encouraged his fellow Chicagoans to plant their gardens in the city’s open plots and peripheral fields—a sort of frontier hedge fund.

9. City by The Lake

The origin behind the nickname “City by the Lake” is pretty obvious and comes from the city’s proximity to Lake Michigan.

10. Heart of America

Described as the quintessential American city in the media, Chicago is known as the “Heart of America” due to its history of innovation and reinvention and being one of the largest transportation centers in America. The Chicago Transit Authority operates the nation’s second-largest public transportation system, providing an annual average of more than 450 million bus and train rides that connect the city with the country.

11. The Jewel of the Midwest

Chicago is often called “The Jewel of the Midwest” due to the abundance of tourist attractions throughout the city. The city set a record in 2018 when it attracted 58 million visitors.

12. My Kind of Town

My Kind of Town” is a fond term for Chicago and is based on a 1964 song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that pays homage to Chicago. It was also recorded and performed several times by Frank Sinatra, which boosted its popularity.

13. Chiberia

Chicago’s winter nickname, “Chiberia,” has its roots in the 2014 polar vortex cold outbreak. Richard Castro, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, has been credited as the originator of the nickname. Coined by combining Chicago with the notoriously cold Siberia, Castro drove home the important safety message that this was no ordinary cold snap. The nickname took off in style on Twitter, where it trended, and on Google, it returned 346,000 results.

14. Chiraq

The term “Chiraq” (or Chi-Raq) has become street slang for Chicago, which represents the city’s thousands of annual shootings and hundreds of murders. It combines Chicago with Iraq and refers to some violent areas in Chicago, likening them to a warzone. Spike Lee directed and produced a 2015 American musical crime comedy-drama film by the same name.

15. The 312

Area code 312 is the telephone area code for downtown Chicago, including the Chicago Loop and its immediate environs. As a result, it is often called “The 312.” 312 Day is celebrated annually in Chicago on March 12.

16. The Furry Capital of the World

Chicago holds the largest furry convention in the world called Midwest FurFest.

17. The Great American City

Culled from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Norman Mailer’s book “Miami and the Siege of Chicago.”

18. The City Beautiful

A reference to the eponymous reform movement sparked by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, led by famed architect Daniel Burnham.

19. The Big Onion

A play on New York’s nickname “The Big Apple.” Most likely, it references the origins of Chicago’s name, which comes from the Algonquin language: “shikaakwa,” meaning “striped skunk” or “onion.”

20. Paris of the Prairie

In 1909, Chicago underwent massive urban changes to rejuvenate the city’s layout. Daniel Burnham designed a plan that incorporated large boulevards and parks similar to those in Paris. Also, Paris was a revolutionary city, much like Chicago, which was the center of the labor movement.

That’s it from us. Are there any other nicknames for Chicago we may have omitted? Let us know 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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