By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Every region, from entire nations to local towns have nicknames or slogans that, to some degree, define or frame their identity or some key element of their history or identity. Some of these terms and names emerge from popular usage while some are the result of committees or local marketing. Some names and descriptors are aspirations, some are a nod to local characters or historic events.
New Jersey describes itself as “The Garden State”.
Alabama is “The Heart of Dixie”.
Alaska is the “Land of the Midnight Sun”.
Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln”.
Montana is, of course, “Big Sky Country”.
Washington is, as we all know, “The Evergreen State” – even though it primarily applies to the section of the state west of the mountain range that divides the state.
Towns and cities
Seattle, for those many years when Boeing was based there, described itself as the “Jet City”. Once Boeing transferred to Chicago, Seattle sought public recommendations for a new moniker. “The Emerald City” emerged in 1981, though I don’t hear it much lately.
In the early days, possibly as early as 1870, Seattle was known as the “Queen City” for its leadership role in commerce in the Northwest. That name was never official but it was used widely by journalists and other boosters, and there are still some businesses and organizations — Queen City Yacht Club, for example — where it persists to this day.
New York City has called itself “The Big Apple” for decades.
Chicago has described itself as “The Second City” and “The Windy City”.
Spokane is known by some as “Spoklahoma”.
Tacoma, of course, is “The City of Destiny” – apparently “Most Wired City” didn’t stick – or perhaps it took on a meaning that no longer fit.
Tampa, Florida, for obvious reasons, is known as the “Lightning Capital of the World”.
Portland, Oregon certainly earns its place as “Bridgetown” though “The Rose City” suits it better.
Reno, Nevada is known as both “The Biggest Little City In the World” and “Neon Babylon”.
Some cities are the “Paris” or even “Gibraltar” of the country or region. Some are the “crossroads” or “gateway” to some greater horizon.
Others are known by some local crop or features, from frogs to garlic to grits to dandelions.
Wichita, Kansas claims its spot as the “Air Capital of the World”. I can’t begin to imagine what this actually refers to, but I also can’t imagine much competition in that realm.
It reminds me of the joke about the air and space museum – there was nothing there.
Winnemucca, Nevada describes itself as the “City of Paved Streets”.
Yakima, Washington has a billboard welcoming visitors to “The Palm Springs of Washington”.
Others are named for the character of their residents – mostly in the direction of friendly or welcoming.
The city of Puyallup, for example had as its slogan “Do the Puyallup” in tribute to its annual fair. But before that, it held to a paraphrase of the native term that gave the city its name which translates to something like “Land of Generous People”.
Can we have more than one City of Destiny?
And in a strange historical twist, the city of Wichita, Kansas, objected to Tacoma’s use of the phrase and threatened legal action.
In 1887, a newspaper in Wichita said the phrase was:
“[A]ppropriated and copyrighted by the original and only real City of Destiny of the west, Wichita; and we hereby notify [George Francis Train] that further use of the words, insignia, appellation or expression ‘City of Destiny’ in connection with the name of any other city, place or locality other than Wichita, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Fortunately for Tacoma, the city fathers of Wichita never followed through on their legal threat. The leaders of Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, apparently gave up on using “City of Destiny” themselves.
Tacoma, of course, would not even attempt such a name derived from either “Doing the Tacoma” or any reference to crime or public behavior.
The “Tacoma method” (as in the forced expulsion of Chinese workers and residents) after all, is not something to be proud of – though it certainly should be commemorated.
Seattle is, as we all know, well-known for its “Seattle Freeze” – the near universal, and sometimes blatant hostility to newcomers and outsiders.
When I am in Seattle, I am often treated like an unwelcome nuisance, and if it slips out that I am from Tacoma, the mood shifts into something approximating the somber sound track of a murder mystery as the next victim is revealed. What, after all, is Tacoma known and recognized for?
Fortunately the term “Aroma of Tacoma” has, like its sources (pulp mills along the waterfront) largely dissipated, though it does emerge occasionally.
What is a new-comer or visitor likely to encounter?
What is the character and reputation of Tacoma in a short, memorable, descriptive phrase?
Or, for those of us who live here, what is the continuing theme of Nextdoor (https://us.nextdoor.com/) posts?
I hear “T-Town” once in a while, but it doesn’t really stick.
But what would be a phrase that captures the mixed feelings that some of us have about our fair city and that resonates with who we have been, and how our neighbors already see us?
In that vein, I have a recommendation for a new slogan for Tacoma, one we can live up to, and embrace: “We might not be friendly, but we’re not pretentious”.
In Latin, of course, that would be “Nos non esset amica, sed non nimium ambitiosa”.
I translated this phrase into Irish/Gaelic and then back into English and it came back as “We may not be friendly, but we’re not careful” – which might be even more accurate.
Translated into Russian and then back to English gave us “We cannot be friendly, but we are not pretentious”.
Tacoma, like every city, has some neighborhoods that are more “welcoming” than others, and some neighborhoods that require a bit more prudence.
Neighborhood specific slogans and mottoes might be a little too much, but a slogan or motto that defines our entire city – where we’ve been and where we’re going might be just what we need.