New York City has a huge list of nicknames, each with a unique story and meaning. However, one of the more intriguing ones that you might have heard of is Gotham. But why exactly is New York City known as Gotham? I was curious about the origin and meaning of this nickname, so I did a bit of research, and this is what I found out.
New York City’s nickname, Gotham, was coined by Washington Irving in 1807. The nickname is seen first in Irving’s Salmagundi, a satirical piece about NYC’s politics, residents, and culture. He was inspired by “The Wise Men of Gotham,” a folk tale about the crazy people of Gotham, Nottinghamshire.
As you can probably pick up by now, there is quite a rich history behind New York City’s Gotham nickname. There is more to talk about and discuss; however, so below, I will take a deeper dive into why exactly NYC is known as Gotham as well as a few related questions.
Why NYC is Known As Gotham
New York City has had the nickname Gotham for a very long time. And while it isn’t as well known as other NYC nicknames such as The Big Apple, it is still very prominent in New York culture and is referred to now and again.
Alright, so let’s dig right in so that we get to the very root of this nickname and look at its beginnings and why exactly New York became to be known by the nickname, Gotham.
The Origin of New York City’s Gotham Nickname The story of Gotham as a nickname for NYC all began in late 1807. This was when Washington Irving, along with a couple of other writers, published an issue of Salmagundi.
Salmagundi was a satirical periodical magazine of sorts that was written by Washington Irving, William Irving, Jr., and James Kirke Paulding. The three writers satirized the residents, culture, and politics of New York and bundled their thoughts up into the magazine’s pages.
In total, twenty issues of Salmagundi were published at random intervals, but the one issue of note here is the one published on November 11, 1807.
In this November issue, Washington Irving first began to reference New York City as “Gotham.” His reason for calling the city Gotham is based on an old folk tale about the residents of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, England.
The folk tale in question, “The Wise Men of Gotham,” tells the story of the people of a little town in England called Gotham. Back in the day, wherever the king of England traveled had to be made into a public highway. Gotham residents didn’t want a public road through their town when the king announced he would be traveling through, so they acted like they were crazy so he would go elsewhere.
The ruse worked, and Gotham, Nottinghamshire became known as a town full of fools. This incident is where the adage “the fools of Gotham” and “the wise men of Gotham” were born. These polar opposite sayings came to be because the resident’s actions could be seen as foolish (they acted crazy) or very wise (they avoided building a public highway through their town which they didn’t want).
Washington Irving, in his November publication of Salmagundi, referenced New York City as Gotham to likely symbolize the sometimes wise and sometimes foolish nature of the city. Ever since then, the nickname has stuck around and even to this day is used.
New York City’s Ties to Gotham City from Batman
The clearly noticeable similarities between DC Batman’s Gotham City and the Gotham nickname that was given to New York City by Washington Irving have also popularized the name and made sure it won’t fade out of culture anytime soon.
For those unfamiliar with the popular comic book and movie character, Batman is a vigilante type character who fights crime and works to protect his home, Gotham City. Batman was created and written by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and while the primary city featured in Batman bears a similar name to NYC’s nickname, it is not based solely on New York.
Early issues of Batman place him in an exact replica of New York City, although it was still called Gotham City. However, it was later changed to a fictional city so that people from all over the world could connect with the character more easily. The fictional Gotham City, where Batman resides, now takes many architectural and cultural hints from NYC, but it also incorporates parts of other cities such as Chicago.
The Gotham nickname for New York City is often wrongly attributed to Batman because of its ties with the earlier comics.
How the Gotham Nickname has Influenced New York City
While not as popular as other nicknames for New York City, Gotham has definitely crept its way into its culture despite being less well known.
Many artists and architects have taken influence from DC Batman’s Gotham City and brought it to life in NYC. Books, movies, and other creative mediums have also taken inspiration from the Gotham name and used it to guide their interpretation of New York in whatever medium they are working in.
Many sayings, while not very popular, have stemmed from NYC’s Gotham nickname. Adages such as “the wise men of Gotham” and “the fools of Gotham” can at least be partly attributed to the nickname.
Sprinkled throughout NYC, some businesses and establishments have taken “Gotham” as part of their name. Everything from comedy clubs, dentists, apartments, and hotels have embraced their city’s nickname and made it part of their own name.
It’s actually surprising how many different businesses based out of New York and all around the globe, for that matter, have “Gotham” as part of their name.
Overall, the nickname Gotham and the association with Batman’s Gotham City have heavily influenced New York City and how outsiders view the city. There are significant influences, such as the names of businesses in New York. Then there are the more subtle things such as how New York often is portrayed artistically to match the gritty style associated with Batman and Gotham City.
What Does the Word “Gotham” Mean?
At this point, some of you might be wondering, what does “Gotham” even mean? It has been used in quite a few places, so it has to have some poetic or lovely meaning, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that “Gotham” might not have as attractive a definition as you had hoped.
In fact, when Washington Irving first gave NYC the nickname Gotham, it might have been a sort of backhanded jab at the residents, politics, and culture of the city. The periodical magazine that the Gotham nickname was published in, Salmagundi, was a heavy satire publication that Irving often used to voice his own opinions of the world.
Here’s the translation that we’ve all been waiting for: Gotham, when directly translated from Old English, literally means “goat home.”
Gotham, Nottinghamshire, England was really nothing more than a goat home, to begin with, especially in the 1800s, when Irving first coined Gotham as a nickname for New York City. The city was quite poor, but during the Second World War, it was entirely defaced to confuse invading troops of their exact location.
What Other Nicknames Does New York City Have?
Throughout this article, I have offhandedly mentioned that Gotham isn’t New York City’s most recognized and popular nickname. The vast majority of major cities in the world have many different names and nicknames that they often go by, and New York is no different.
Below are some of the more popular nicknames for NYC:
● The Big Apple
● The Melting Pot
● The Capital of the World
● The Center of the Universe
There are probably hundreds of other names that I am missing, but I named most of the major players. All of this to say, Gotham, while it has had a large amount of cultural impact and significance, is not the most well known NYC nickname out there.
Part of the spirit and culture of New York comes from its identity and, therefore, its nicknames.
Overall, the tale of how and why New York City is known as Gotham is pretty clear. Most of the story is well documented, and there is not much information lost to the folds of history.
Washington Irving first published the nickname Gotham when referring to NYC in 1807. Way over a hundred years later, Batman gave new life to the name and briefly tied it directly to New York again by initially basing Batman in the city.
Since then, New Yorkers and people worldwide have associated and called NYC “Gotham.” It has become so ingrained in the city’s culture that business names, art, and many other local things have been altered and changed in ways that represent or are reminiscent of the iconic name.