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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

What’s in a (Nick) Name?

I’ve worked in newsrooms in nearly a dozen cities up and down California and across the U.S. – and in Tokyo too.

One of the first things you do as a reporter or editor after you arrive at a new job is learn the local lingo and quickly get familiar with places and names, including nicknames. That way, you don’t look like such a newbie when you start writing stories.  

To avoid being repetitive, reporters like to shake it up sometimes and sprinkle in an occasional nickname. When I lived in Hawaii and wrote for the Garden Island, which is Kauai’s nickname, I tried to use ‘Aloha State’ like a semi-local.

When I worked at the Denver Post, the preferred nickname for the city was ‘Mile High’ – like the name of the old stadium where the Broncos played. (If I’d arrived here before 2017, I might have asked if ‘Chargers Country’ was an appropriate nickname – but I know that is not a good idea these days.)


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Working for 15 years now in California, from the Bay Area to the Central Valley and now here in SoCal, I like to use the occasional ‘Golden State’ reference to spice up a story.

Sorry it’s taken five paragraphs to get to my point, but my question is: In 2022, what is the best nickname for San Diego, a city clearly on the rise and increasingly punching above its weight on the national and international stage?

‘America’s Finest City’ was given to San Diego by the city’s 29th mayor – and later Golden State governor – Pete Wilson. Wilson was mayor 50 years ago, so perhaps an update is appropriate, maybe something more original than ‘America’s Finest City 2.0’?


In poking around the internet, I discovered another alternative moniker for San Diego – ‘Birthplace of California’ – which doesn’t necessarily roll off the keyboard like America’s Finest City, still the city’s top nickname online.  

With its sun-splashed beaches, vibrant neighborhoods and bustling business community, San Diego may indeed be America’s finest city – but the phrase doesn’t really paint a very specific picture, does it?


Now that I’m a semi-native – I’ve lived here a little more than 6 months – I need to decide what to call my new hometown in headlines and stories. I Googled nicknames for San Diego and also came up with ‘City in Motion, ‘Plymouth of the West’ and ‘Silicon Beach.’


I’ve never heard a city except for the ‘Big Apple’ and perhaps ‘Sin City’ as one “in motion” – although San Diego clearly fits that bill, especially if you still travel the I-5 or I-15 daily.


‘Plymouth of the West,’ a nickname I’d never heard before either, sounds sort of Pilgrim-y and I’d love to know the origin – but I wouldn’t expect the phrase to show up in local T-shirt shops anytime soon.


With the surge in recent years in life sciences and all-things tech – biotech, bluetech, fintech and just good old-fashioned technology tech – San Diego does suddenly rival Silicon Valley – so maybe ‘Silicon Beach’ would work.

Recently, I saw a story in the local daily headlined ‘Tech Diego.’ That’s not bad either, even if it does come from a competing news organization.


When he became San Diego’s 37th mayor in 2021, Todd Gloria said ‘America’s Finest City’ was a fine nickname while also challenging San Diego to become a “truly great city” on the global stage – like Tokyo, which, as far as I know, doesn’t have an official nickname.


What do Business Journal readers think? If you’ve got a suggestion for a new nickname for our fair – dare we say ‘finest’ – city, we’d love to hear from you (businessnews@sdbj.com).


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