The Nicknames of New York
Here is the Story of Gotham City

The True Origins of Gotham

Categories: Around NYC with Irene

New York City and its Nicknames

We all know New York City under so many other names, arguably, it is indeed the city that has more nicknames than most ... some websites even mention over 100 nicknames!!!

But let's see some of them together, the most popular ones, those that for sure you have heard many times before.
  • The Big Apple
  • Empire City which seems to derive from a quote by G. Washington "This is definitely the city of the empire!"
  • The City That Never Sleeps
  • The city so beautiful that they named it twice - New York, New York
and lastly, the most legendary nickname, and perhaps the least obvious in its origins -- Gotham!

Gotham: Batman, Knickerbocker & its true origins

If Gotham City makes you immediately think of Batman and his adventures, it means that you only know part of the story. The first time Gotham City is named in the Batman comics is in the issue #4 when the writer, Bill Finger, wanted to give a more vague setting and changed the name from Manhattan to Gotham. It was 1940.

However, well before Batman, we find the name of Gotham City linked to the writer Washington Irving, famous for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (perhaps you remember the movie adaption with Johnny Depp) and "Rip Van Winkle". It was way back in 1807 when Irving nicknamed the city of New York -- GOTHAM in the literary magazine Salmagundi. Always during those years, another important nickname came to be -- Knickerbocker. A nickname which went down in history as the nickname of New Yorkers, especially those of Dutch origins, as well as the name from which the New York Basketball Team - The Knicks - takes its name.

There is actually a funny story behind the how the term Knickerbocker came to be. It was back in the early 1800s when we find some of the first instances of "Fake News" ... It's 1809 and Irving publishes "A History of New York, From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker" (a political satire of the time) but what is incredible is that to promote his book, Irving begins (well before the book's publication) to spread false news to various New York City newspapers alleging that a well-known Dutch historian - Diedrich Knickerbocker precisely - had disappeared from his hotel in Manhattan. Apparently, the Dutch-American historian wore a type of knee-length pants, hence the name "knickerbocker." The story was quite popular at the time and the term Knickerbockerafter stuck becoming a popular nickname for New Yorkers.

However, if we want to find the true origin of the word "Gotham" we must go back to medieval England when in some English proverbs we find a village called Gotham or Gottam, which means "City of the Goats" considered a country of madmen.

Quite positively, today, Gotham does not evoke a crazy goat village in the minds of New Yorkers, but if sometimes it evokes the noir version made popular by Batman, other times, it definitely recalls all the businesses with Gotham in their names ... You can visit the  Gotham Center of New York History to discover even more fun facts about the word Gotham.

Irene's Tips

Irene - Your Tour Guide

Recommended Readings

  • If you want to find out more about Gotham City, I recommend the book "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898" by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. The story will take you back in time exploring NY origins as Indian tribes settled in and around the island of Manna-hata to the consolidation of the five boroughs under New York City in 1898.

Irene T. - NYC Tour Guide

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