For our primer on municipal moniker mania, we have come to Bellflower, “The Friendly City.” But wait. There are hundreds of other U.S. cities that claim to be “The Friendly City.” What gives, Bellflower? What makes you The Friendly City?
“Hmmm, that’s a good question,” said Jennifer Snow of Bellflower’s Chamber of Commerce. Actually, Snow admitted, Bellflower has an older, informal slogan she likes even better: “21 Churches and No Jails.”
“We have more churches per capita than any other city in the United States; at least that’s what we’ve been told,” Snow said. “In the 1940s, it was 21 churches, no jails. In the mid-'50s, it was 51 churches, no jails. Now, I couldn’t even tell you how many churches are here.”
In a world where image is everything, the business of city sobriquets is a serious one. For most cities it’s a “quick means of getting a national cachet,” said political scientist Melissa Line. “Sloganeering is deeply ingrained in our culture. Giving our cities and states some kind of nickname or handle encapsulates our desires for our communities.” To say nothing of bringing in tourism dollars.
Most Southern California city slogans seem to fall into one of three categories.
There’s the Ho-Hum:
Arcadia is the “Community of Homes.” Burbank is the “City of People, Pride and Progress.” Temple City is “Home of Camellias.” And Hawthorne is the “City of Good Neighbors,” although a certain Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce employee who shall remain nameless allowed, “I don’t know how true it is anymore.”
There’s the Huh?:
In this category we put Camarillo, whose slogan is the “People Are the City.” Paramount’s is “Positively Paramount.” Lakewood is “Tomorrow’s City Today.” Baldwin Park used to be “City in Motion,” but officials there have changed it to “A New Perspective” because some puckish wags had begun referring to it as City in Commotion.
“Baldwin Park is kind of used to being called names. We’re kind of the whipping boy of the valley,” said Baldwin Park City Clerk Linda Gair. “But we hired image consultants . . . and they came up with ‘A New Perspective.’
“We just had new pens arrive the other day with that slogan. It’s been very well received.”
And there’s Hyperbole:
Oxnard, formerly known as “Kissed by the Sun, Hugged by the Sea,” is now “Upcoast Oxnard, Where Life Takes on New Meaning.” Then there’s Torrance’s “Halfway to Everywhere” (which, of course, it isn’t). Bakersfield is the “Nashville of the West,” which even officials there admit is a stretch, the presence of musical legend Buck Owens notwithstanding.
“I don’t think we deserve that name but it’s one I’ve heard of,” said Patrice Black of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce.
Others worth mentioning:
Santa Barbara is known as the “Riviera of the Pacific.” But Laguna Beach bills itself as the “Riviera of the West Coast.”
“We’ve had that name a long time,” sniffed Rita Knisely of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Claremont is listed as being “A Bit of New England With a Sombrero on It,” but we could find no one there who knows where that came from, nor could we find anyone who uses it.
Oceanside has “Take Pride in Oceanside,” but its old motto is pithier and more coltish, we think: “Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.”
“I like the old one, too,” said Phyllis Hill, administrative director of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. “But now we’re in the ‘90s and with woman’s lib and things.”
A little farther from home, we like the earthiness and bonhomie of San Pablo’s the “Little City With the Big Inferior Complex.” And Calipatria’s the “Lowest Down City in the Western Hemisphere.”
“We call it that because it’s true; we’re 184 feet below sea level,” said Daniel Carmichael, mayor of Calipatria, a town of 3,000 about 60 miles from Palm Springs.
Not that Mayor Carmichael likes the name, mind you. “I hate it,” he said. “It’s degrading. It makes you sound low-down, second-class.”
As retired New York librarian Gerard Alexander traveled through America, he became so curious about the genesis of these nicknames that he wrote a book about them, “Nicknames and Sobriquets of U.S. Cities, States and Counties.”
He and colleague Joseph N. Kane, a trivia buff, found that some cities opt for the straightforward--Plant City, Florida’s “Just a Real Nice Town,” for instance. Some tap into a prominent local industry--Claxton, Georgia’s “The Fruit Cake Capital,” or Thomaston, “Georgia’s the Tire Cord Capital of the U.S.”
Some take the comical approach, such as Bouse, Ariz., where the official Welcome to Bouse sign actually says “Home of 872 Friendly People and 4 Grouches.” Some burgs borrow the luster of more famous places, such as Sitka, Alaska, calling itself the “Paris of the Pacific.”
“I’m not sure why they call us that,” confessed Rita Heathman, Sitka’s acting city clerk. “We don’t have anything French.”
“Some of the nicknames are sheer wishful thinking,” said author Alexander. “There are hundreds of cities of ‘Gracious Living.’ They can’t all be that, but I wasn’t going to be the judge of these things.”
Back at home, Los Angeles, of course, is widely known as the “City of Angels.” But we were amused to see that it also has numerous unofficial and less-than-desirable nicknames, too. Apparently, these are the petty handiwork of hostile (read: envious) communities who have dubbed Los Angeles such things as the Capital of Crackpots, Sin City and Paradise Sullied.
Jealousy is an ugly thing, isn’t it?