Sure, you know what the Big Apple and the Big Easy are, but you’ve never actually sat down and thought about how those names relate to New York City or New Orleans. (Spoiler alert: They have to do with each other.) Here, the fascinating (and surprising) backstories of nine popular American city nicknames.

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New York City skyline view
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The Big Apple

Arguably the most famous city moniker of all, the phrase “big apple” actually existed way before it described NYC. Back in the 1800s, the term was used to explain something important or desirable. Fast-forward to the 1920s, when horse jockeys began to refer to race prizes in New York City as “big apple.” Soon after, jazz musicians adopted the term, and in the 1960s an entire tourism campaign was launched around it. The rest is history.

Beautiful view of Chicago aka the Windy City
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The Windy City

While it’s true that Chicago is known for its blustery weather, another theory to explain its famous nickname is that the term was coined by a rival Cincinnati newspaper that used it to call out the town’s boastful politicians who were “full of hot air.” Flattering? Not so much. Enduring? Absolutely.

New Orleans paddle steamer on the Mississippi River
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The Big Easy

This city nickname actually stems from a good old-fashioned rivalry between New Orleans and New York City. Betty Guillaud, a New Orleans gossip columnist first penned the name, “The Big Easy" to poke fun at the fast-paced Big Apple compared with the laid-back New Orleans. It stuck. Probably because it perfectly sums up the town's relaxed vibe. Hey, the motto isn’t laissez les bons temps rouler ("let the good times roll") for nothing.  

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Philadelphia aka The City of Brotherly Love skyline
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The City of Brotherly Love

This popular Philadelphia moniker is easy to explain: In Greek, “philos” translates to love, and “adelphos” to brother. Pennsylvania founder and Quaker William Penn named the city as such because he wanted it to be a friendly, tolerant place. If only he could see a Phillies game today…

Seattle skyline aka The Emerald City
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The Emerald City

Known to some as the coffee capital of the world, Seattle also boasts plenty of lush greenery including Green Lake Park and the Washington Park Arboretum. The metropolis is lucky enough to experience this verdant flora and fauna year-round, probably thanks to its other nickname: Rain City.

Welcome to Las Vegas sign
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Sin City

Yep, you guessed it—Las Vegas earned its name thanks to the abundance of raunchy behavior the city inspires. (Hey, if it happens in Vegas…) Nevada may have legalized gambling in 1931 (after it was outlawed in 1910), but the city was already booming with speakeasies, casinos, corruption and crime. These days, it’s not quite as illicit—although we hear Britney’s performance is killer.

Atlanta Skyline Reflection in Piedmont Park
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Hotlanta

Anyone who’s been to Georgia in the summer (or anytime, really) should have no problem explaining this descriptive label. The Allman Brothers also helped spread the Atlanta nickname with their 1971 hit "Hot 'Lanta."

Denver aka The Mile High City skyline
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The Mile High City

Denver sits 5,280-feet above sea level. Which so happens to be one-mile high. Go figure.

Los Angeles city skyline
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The City of Angels

Back in the 18th century, what is now Los Angeles and the surrounding area belonged to Spain. For those of us who didn’t pay attention in middle school Spanish, here’s a quick refresher: Los = the, Ángeles = angels. Easy.

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