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Origins of Chicago’s Most Popular Nicknames

Nov 3rd, 2021

Nicknames are a term of endearment, most of the time. Nicknames show our intimacy with the person or place we’re referencing, and it requires us to have at least a little bit of personal experience and insider knowledge of the subject. 

If you live in our luxury Chicago apartments, then you’re probably very familiar with the many nicknames that have been bestowed on our fair city over the years. Which of these famous Chicago nicknames have you heard, and which ones do you use?

Popular Chicago nicknames and their origins


It gets cold in Chicago! In the winter polar vortex of 2013-2014, the temperature dropped so much that a local meteorologist coined the chilling nickname. Since then, the nickname emerges whenever the cold gets a little too out of hand. 


One of the more modern nicknames for Chicago comes courtesy of Kanye West and his song “Homecoming,” as well as Common in his song “Chi-City.”

City by the Lake

This nickname, which emerged around the late 1880s, is pretty self-explanatory, honestly. You can figure it out for yourself. 

City in the Garden

Chicago’s motto is “urbs in horto,” meaning “city in a garden.” The city gained its nickname in 1837 when the city was incorporated, as Chicago’s many parks and beaches predated the city itself! There are over 8,800 acres of green space (that includes parks, beaches and trails) in Chicago, making it the city with the largest municipal park district in the United States!

City of Big Shoulders

Poet Carl Sandburg wrote a poem in 1916 called “Chicago,” in which he refers to Chicago as the “City of the Big Shoulders." The reference is to the hard-working tradesmen and physical laborers who made the city the industrial center of the region, and the name has stuck since!

Heart of America

Chicago has long served as a major transportation hub for a wide variety of industries all over the country, serving as the beating heart for the commercial creature that is the United States. It was also one physically located near the geographic center of the U.S., back when the nation didn’t expand all the way to the Pacific coast. 

My Kind of Town

Frank Sinatra lovingly referred to Chicago as his kind of town in his 1966 hit “My Kind Of Town.” The song celebrates the kind people, landmarks like the Wrigley Building and the Union Stockyard, the jazz and the imprint the city leaves on one’s heart, and if Chicago is good enough for Sinatra, it’s good enough for us! Chicago is now our collective kind of town.

Paris of the Prairie

Back in 1909, the City of Chicago was undergoing some massive urban changes to rejuvenate the city’s layout, as the city’s rapid growth had found the infrastructure lacking. Daniel Burnham designed a plan that incorporated large boulevards and parks similar to those in Paris which, if the Great Depression hadn’t halted the progress, Chicago would look remarkably similar to today. Thus, the nickname! 

Smelly Onion

City names have fascinating origins when you break the words down to their root meanings. 

Take our very own Chicago, for instance. According to historians, one possible origin of the name comes from the word shikaakwa, a Miami-Illinois word for the garlic plant that grew along the river banks. French settlers roughly translated the word to “Chicago,” and the “stinky onion” nickname stuck around, giving the city the pungent moniker it still has today.

That Toddlin’ Town

Another Frank Sinatra song referencing the, well, toddly-ness of the city? What makes a town toddlin’, we’ll never know, but we do know that Chicago is definitely one of them. 

Check out the song for yourself to find out!

The Second City

This nickname first circulated in the 1950s after a New Yorker living in Chicago complained that it was a second-class city compared to the booming metropolis of NYC. There was quite a rivalry between the two cities during that time, and the insults were flung from both sides. 

Now, though, the nickname has come to mean “second to none” because of the great strides Chicago has made over the years. 

The Third Coast

Lake Michigan’s gorgeous shoreline has long been an attraction to beach-lovers and water enthusiasts. So much so, in fact, that tourists began to refer to the lake’s shoreline as “the third coast,” and since so many residents in the Midwest are effectively land-locked, it’s the closest thing to a coast that many will get.

The Windy City

You know, Chicago is not actually as blustery as the nickname makes it out to be! The tall buildings and skyscrapers funnel the wind from the lake, giving the city those strong gusts of wind, but the overall amount of wind is honestly nothing too spectacular. 

Chicago clocks an average of 10.8 mph wind speed, but there are 78 cities in the country that boast higher averages. Boston, for example, has averages of 12.6 mph, New York City has 12.2 mph winds and Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, has winds averaging 35.0 mph!

Chicago’s “windy city” nickname actually stems from some hot-headed and boastful citizens that were a little too proud of their city back in the mid-1800s. Apparently, people in other cities saw Chicagoans as full of hot air, and that they would go on and on about their city and themselves. These long-winded conversations gave Chicago its windy city nickname!

So, there you go! These are some of Chicago’s most popular nicknames over the years. Which are your favorites?

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/350543

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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