Quirky capitals and how they earned their nicknames

The Drinkable City. Big D. El Foro. While officially you wouldn’t find any of these bizarre city names on an Atlas or spinning globe on your office desk, in many cases it’s the quirky place names a destination is better known for or more fondly recognised by.

“How they actually got these names is usually a fascinating story in itself,” explains travel expert and frequent traveller, Theresa Sjezwallo, MD The Travel Corporation South Africa. “Some of the most interesting monikers originate from coincidences like Thailand, the land of smiles. This has nothing to do with the Thais smiling more than most – although they are a friendly nation. Rather, the Thai people have a wide range of terms for different types of smiles, 13 to be exact.

“There are smiles of hopelessness, attitude smiles, evil smiles, forced smiles, mocking smiles and then happy smiles and more. If you do not like to be oblivious about what is going on around you, carry a phrase book with you and ask the locals to interpret the different types of smiles for you.”

Here are some of the quirkiest place names Trafalgar has come across on its travels:

1.The Big Easy (aka New Orleans)
If you’ve ever sauntered down Bourbon Street, you’ll agree that New Orleans has certainly earned its beloved nickname. Its laidback lifestyle and locals and air of pageantry make it a popular stop for travellers heading down south. But the nickname Big Easy ironically had very little to do with this relaxed state of mind. The name derives from a dance hall that bore its name in the early 1900s and was only made popular in the 1970s when a Louisiana journalist began calling the city by that name.

2.The Square Mile (aka London)
When we refer to The Square Mile, we’re not referring to London in its entirety. The City of London earned its nickname in Victorian times and encompasses only the site of the original walled city built by the Romans in the first century – Londinium at the time.

3.Muddy York (aka Toronto)
The name is said to have originated during Toronto’s early settlement years before there were sewers and storm drains, and the streets were unpaved. During rainfall, water would accumulate on the dirt roads, transforming them into often impassable muddy avenues. Today this sophisticated capital would seem anything but muddy, yet the name lives on.

4. Bleak City (aka Melbourne)
Poor Melbourne gets a bad rap for its weather. The city’s disparaging nickname originates from its alleged reputation for being cold, rainy and frankly a bit dull. Visitors to the destination will however delight in its cosmopolitan atmosphere and picturesque harbour setting so perhaps it deserves a bit of a name change in future.

5.The Mother City (aka Cape Town)
There are various explanations for why our very own quirky ‘capital’ gets this name. One claim is that it derives from an ambitious declaration by a local newspaper in the 1930s that Cape Town was the only South African city that could lay claim to being a metropolis, which in Greek is a combination of mother (metros) and city (polis). This seems rather academic and perhaps a little less believable than claims it is so called because it takes nine months to get anything done. Then of course, the suggestion that Cape Town has Mother City status because South Africa as we know it today began on its shores may be just as believable.

So, next time you travel, get Googling to see the bizarre and quirky names by which your destination goes. You could be headed to Tiger Town, El Bocho or Default City.

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