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New York is considered the Big Apple, while Bangkok is the Big Mango. New Orleans has other nicknames — Crescent City, NOLA, N’awlins. However, none describes this quarter moon-shaped island between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain better than the “Big Easy.” But how did the city earn this unique nickname?
Famous for Mardi Gras, street music, and an always bustling Bourbon Street, New Orleans is anything but a quiet town. The Big Easy has been partying on for decades, but the city’s iconic name has been shrouded in mystery over the years. Here are three theories behind the unique name’s origin. We’ll let you be the judge of which one seems to be the most logical!
It Goes Back to Gossip
Some say the “New Orleans Times-Picayune” society and gossip columnist, Betty Guillaud, is the original author of the nickname. It’s true that the “Big Easy” wasn’t a household term (at least in print) before the 1970s, when Guillaud used the term to contrast New Orleans’ laid-back lifestyle with the frenzied hurry of New York City — also known as the “Big Apple.” Guillaud’s life was as colorful as the city she called home. Fond of fancy hats and crashing parties, colleagues described her as the “Auntie Mame of journalism” since she scooped her own paper and interviewed kings and Nobel prize winners. With such a big personality and so many connections, it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that the nickname only stuck after she put it on paper.
It’s Where There’s a Famous Dance Hall
Many others relate the name “Big Easy” back to a lively dance hall of the same name at Lafayette and Eighth Street. Interestingly, the property is not located within official New Orleans city limits, but rather in the West Bank suburb of Gretna. The Big Easy unfortunately burned down in 1911, but the name still lives on today.
It’s Where the Gigs Are Easy
No other city in the world is more intimately associated with music than New Orleans. Home to jazz, blues, and dixieland, the Big Easy has a diverse music scene and it’s easy to find open mics and street performers — no matter what neighborhood you’re in. Musicians from around the world found gigs easy to come by in this city filled with parties and bars and they could easily make a living just playing on the streets of the French Quarter. For this reason, it’s argued that the amount of opportunity for performers earned the city its famous nickname. Need to make a name for yourself as an artist? It was easy in New Orleans.
When it comes to the “Big Easy,” origin stories are as contested as gumbo recipes. We think it’s because New Orleans is a city that’s simply easy to love.
Featured image credit: Art Wager/ iStock