The Best Nicknames for Southern Cities
Southerners love nicknames. You can’t say you haven’t met a Bubba, Beau, or Sissy from the South, or better yet, a Southerner with a nickname that makes you say, “Huh?” Those nicknames get pinned on people not by choice but by circumstance. It’s much the same story with nicknames for cities. Chicago didn’t decide to be called the Windy City—it’s called that because, obviously, it’s windy. Like Chicago’s, most city nicknames make circumstantial sense or have roots in the city’s history. But like most things in the South, some of our city’s nicknames are a little out there. What in the world is a Druid, and why would a small city in Alabama be nicknamed after it? We all know The Big Easy, but did you know there’s a Little Easy? And why does the South have a Rocket City and a Space City? Southern city nicknames are as interesting as the people who inhabit them, and we’re taking you on a tour of our favorites.
Asheville, North Carolina- Beer City USA
Like Kansas City claiming to be the BBQ Capital of the World, the nickname Beer City USA is bound to be touchy with other brewery-filled cities. But Asheville was given the moniker because it’s home to more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city, not to mention its multiple annual beer festivals. We’ll cheers to the fact that a Southern city is owner of this nickname.
Athens, Georgia- The Classic City
The home of the University of Georgia is known as The Classic City, but it’s a little foggy where the name actually came from. Not only is Athens named after a very classic city, but many attribute the name to the amount of classic architecture the city boasts. Athens has done an incredible job of preserving countless historic buildings and neighborhoods, and that earns a stamp of approval from us.
Atlanta, Georgia- Hotlanta
We’ll start this one off by saying one thing: People who live in Atlanta do not call it Hotlanta. But like a kid who received an unfortunate nickname early in life, the city couldn’t shake the name that stuck. There are several suggested reasons for the nickname, from the warm Southern climate to the fact that Atlanta is a popular city with a healthy economy and many attractions. If anyone from Atlanta refers to the city with a nickname, they’re likely to simply say ATL instead.
Birmingham, Alabama- The Magic City
During the height of the country’s manufacturing boom, Birmingham became the South’s hub for steel production, which spurred rapid population growth. The city was dubbed The Magic City because of the quick rise in population and opportunity in the city. An older nickname Birmingham adopted that came from the steel-manufacturing days was The Pittsburgh of the South. Many will simply refer to Birmingham as B’ham or The Ham for short.
Charleston, South Carolina- The Holy City
If you visit Charleston, the amount of church steeples that dot the skyline might give you a hint as to why it’s called The Holy City, but the nickname has roots that date back to the city’s founding. Protestants settled Charleston, but immigrants of other religions came to settle in the city, too. Because of its tolerance for religious freedom, which wasn’t the norm back then, Charleston is called The Holy City. The city was named after King Charles II and was founded as Charles Town. Chuck is a nickname for someone named Charles, so Chucktown or Chuck Town is Charleston’s more casual nickname.
Charlotte, North Carolina- Queen City
Even though Cincinnati also claims ownership of the nickname, Southerners only recognize one Queen City—Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte was chartered in 1768, when King George III ruled. His wife’s name was Queen Charlotte, and the city was named after her. During the Revolution, Charlotte was called “a hornet’s nest of rebellion” by a British general, who spurred another nickname for city—The Hornet’s Nest. Because of this nickname, the city’s NBA team was the Charlotte Hornets. After some name changes and relocations, the Charlotte Hornets came back to the city, dubbing it with a new nickname—Buzz City.
Dallas, Texas- Big D
This nickname’s origin is one that’s a little more difficult to peg down. According to a writer for an unofficial Dallas history site, a Dallas broadcaster named Pop Myres was credited in his obituary with starting the nickname. That same writer found earlier references to the nickname, which were mostly from sportswriters. Regardless its origin, the nickname stuck. More recently, however, Dallas is referred to instead as D-Town.
Houston, Texas- Space City
We’ve already discussed the South’s Rocket City, but we’ve got a Space City, too. In 1961, Houston became home to NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center, which was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Johnson Space Center, for short. Although the famed phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” coined in the movie Apollo 13, is actually an incorrect quote from the real mission (Astronaut Jack Swigert really said “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”), Houston is synonymous with outer space to many. Even Houston’s professional sports teams reflect the city’s out-of-this-world nickname. The Rockets represent Houston in the NBA, and the Houston Astros just won their first World Series title.
Huntsville, Alabama- Rocket City
If you drive past Huntsville, it’s hard to miss the giant rocket standing taller than any building in sight. You wouldn’t expect a city in Alabama to be home to the largest space museum in the world, but Huntville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center is just that. Huntsville earned its nickname long before the museum was built, though. The city is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo mission (yep, that one) was designed and built.
Kansas City, Missouri- City of Fountains
Kansas City is home to hundreds of fountains, all of which have their own unique stories and origins, with some dating back to the 1800s. Much of the city’s architectural beauties, including many of the fountains, are attributed to real estate developer J.C. Nichols. With initiatives like the City of Fountains Foundation, the city is dedicated to keeping those waterworks running and beautiful. Kansas City is also known as the BBQ Capital of the World, but we’re sure our Southern friends in Texas, the Carolinas, Memphis, and Alabama might say they deserve that title.
Lexington, Kentucky- Horse Capital of the World
Although some cities don’t broadcast their colloquial nicknames on official websites and brochures, Lexington proudly touts itself the Horse Capital of the World. The city’s website even has a numbered list of 61 reasons why it’s the Horse Capital of the World. With research and support like that, we wouldn’t question them.
McAdenville, North Carolina- Christmas Town USA
The South is full of festive small towns that are Christmas-obsessed. These Hallmark-movie worthy Southern towns are cheerful and beautiful, but only one is known as Christmas Town USA. McAdenville, North Carolina, is located right outside of the Queen City (Remember which one that was?). Each year, the entire McAdenville community is covered in red, white, and green Christmas lights, and hundreds of thousands of people visit to see the spectacle of Christmas Town USA, free of charge.
Memphis, Tennessee- Bluff City
One of Memphis’ longest-held nicknames is the Bluff City, which is geographically related, as Memphis sits on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff along the Mississippi River. Like New Orleans and Nashville, Memphis is a musical Southern city. Not only is Memphis dubbed Home of the Blues, but it’s also known as the Birthplace of Rock ’n Roll. A more recent nickname Memphis has adopted is Grind City, which is mostly attributed to the city’s NBA team, the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies’ motto is “Grit and Grind,” hence the nickname Grind City.
Miami, Florida- The Magic City
Unfortunately for Southern Living’s hometown of Birmingham, it’s not the only city that considers itself magic. Miami is another city that’s often coined The Magic City for similar reasons as Birmingham. In the 1920s, thanks to a real estate boom, Miami’s population grew so fast that it seemed to be caused by magic.
Mobile, Alabama- The Azalea City
Mobile is Alabama’s oldest city, and it’s earned quite a few nicknames over the past few hundred years. The Azalea City nickname is, of course, related to the azalea flower. Mobile has an Azalea Trail, which is lined with countless pink blooms during their season. The city even has an organization called the Azalea Trail Maids, a group of high school women selected to be ambassadors for the city. Mobile is also called the Port City, for obvious reasons, the City of Six Flags, which is related to the city’s cultural and founding histories, and the Birthplace of Mardi Gras. That’s right—any Mobilian will scoff at a person who thinks that Mardi Gras began in New Orleans. The city has adopted more casual nicknames in recent years, with many referring to it simply as Mobtown or Mob, although they don’t align with the pronunciation of Mobile (Northerners, it’s Moh-BEEL).
Nashville, Tennessee- Music City
It seems futile to explain where Nashville got the name Music City, but it earned the name far earlier than you’d expect. According to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, the first worldwide-touring music act came out of Nashville’s Fisk University, and the Queen of England supposedly said that the school’s singers must hale from The Music City.
New Orleans, Louisiana- The Big Easy
New Orleans’ most famous nickname, The Big Easy, was given to the city long before the questionable movie with the same title came out. There are several stories about where the name was born, but the first time it was put in print was in 1887, referring to the laid-back way of life New Orleans offered. The creole city is also known as The Birthplace of Jazz, which is pretty self-explanatory. Another nickname often heard is The Crescent City, which has to do with the city’s geography. More often than not, Southerners will just say they’re going to NOLA, though.
Oxford, Mississippi- The Little Easy
This nickname is one that isn’t widely accepted or even known, but it’s referenced enough to gain some traction. If we were Oxford, we’d take it as a compliment to be compared to a city with as rich of a history as New Orleans. The Square, the historic center of Oxford’s picturesque downtown, has retained its architectural roots, much like multiple areas in New Orleans. While there’s no party quite like those on Bourbon Street, the home of the University of Mississippi, aka Ole Miss, has a thriving nightlife, too.
Raleigh, North Carolina- City of Oaks
Tuscaloosa isn’t the only Southern city with appreciation for the beauty of oak trees. Raleigh’s nickname as the City of Oaks is attributed all the way back to its founders, who chartered the city as the North Carolina capital in 1792.
Richmond, Virginia- River City
This one might ruffle some feathers, as there are dozens of U.S. cities that claim to be the River City (some of them are even on this list), but Richmond adopted the name and is proud of it. The James River runs around and through this historic city, attracting many outdoor activities, and its thriving Canal Walk runs along the James River and the Kanawha and Haxall Canals.
Savannah, Georgia- Hostess City of the South
The oldest city in the Georgia, Savannah dubs itself the Hostess City of the South. Considering there are quite a few proud hostesses in every Southern city, this is quite a tall order to fill. But with it’s beautiful Antebellum architecture, waterfront views, cobblestone streets, and pure Southern charm, it sure does live up to the name. We’d be happy to have Savannah host us anytime.
San Antonio, Texas- Alamo City
It’s obvious why San Antonio is called the Alamo City, as it’s the home of The Alamo. The Alamo was initially one of many Spanish mission sites near the area, which is the reason behind another of San Antonio’s nicknames—Mission City. The Alamo is famous for an 1835 battle during Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, during which just 200 men defended the fort from thousands of men for 13 days.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama- Druid City
If the Druids were an early Celtic people, then how in the world did a city in Alabama become known as The Druid City? Supposedly, the Druids had a respect for oak groves and considered them sacred places. Since Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, has many old oak trees that were planted as early as the 1800s, the name makes sense. Take a walk down an old Southern street like The Avenue of the Oaks on Spring Hill College’s campus in Mobile, Alabama, and you’ll understand the Druids’ position on oak trees. A more recent nickname that Tuscaloosa adopted is T-Town, which is short for Title Town. If you know anything about the University of Alabama’s football program, you get this one.