In 1807, Washington Irving was a young writer who ran with a pack of literary-minded pals, frequenting writerly haunts like the Shakespeare Tavern and Park Theater.
That year, he and his friends launched a literary magazine called Salmagundi, which ran satirical essays chronicling the “thrice renowned and delectable city of Gotham.”
Translating into “Goat’s Town” (with goats not exactly being the smartest of animals), “Irving’s nickname was intended to mock New York’s culture and politics as he called out the ‘fools’ who had helped the city earn its new name,” stated museumofthecity.org.
Poking fun at the behavior and attitudes of fellow citizens is a time-honored New York tradition. But why would a nickname that could be interpreted as insulting stick?
“Many of the tales merely portray the simple-mindedness of the townsfolk, but some—and here perhaps is the reason Irving’s New York didn’t reject the nickname right away—cast their folly differently, as a kind of in-joke of their own,” writes Jesse Zuba in New York.
New Yorkers love to feel like they’re clever enough to be in on the gag, and that may be why Gotham has triumphed as a popular nickname to this day (helped along two centuries later, when Gotham City became Batman’s hometown.)
You can actually read an 1826 version of The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham, the book that started it all.
[Second image: Salmagundi reprint from 1869; third: Gotham Theatre, NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: 1899 sheet music, NYPL Digital Gallery]
Tags: Gotham nickname origin, Gotham Theatre Brooklyn, literary New York City, New York in 1807, old New York sheet music, Washington Irving Gotham, Washington Irving Salmagundi, Why New York is called Gotham