City of Brotherly Love how Philadelphia got its Nickname

City of Brotherly Love isn’t actually a nickname. It is merely a translation of the Greek phrase “brotherly love” from philos “love” and adelphos “brother”. William Penn was an English Quaker, a Latin and Greek scholar who was educated at Oxford. He chose the name when he established a peaceful and friendly city in the colony in the New World, so that his fellow religionists could escape the persecution they were suffering in their native land.

He received ownership of the New World land in the mid 17th Century in exchange for his inherited estates in England. According to legend, he petitioned the King to call the new colony Sylvania, which translates to “beautiful woodlands”, but the King wanted to honor him by naming it Pennsylvania. That’s why, as a kid just beginning to write, it took me what seemed like years to learn how to spell my hometown, Philadelphia, and follow it with the equally difficult Pennsylvania. Maybe I would have been happier if I had been born and gone to grade school in Moab, Utah.

I don’t know if Philadelphia actually has an officially familiar nickname, such as the Big Apple for New York, City of the Angels for Los Angeles, Beantown for Boston, Crescent City for New Orleans or the Windy City for Chicago. Natives all call it Philly, and the more formal nickname, Quaker City, which is in honor of Billy Penn and his original settlers. I can remember some derogatory nicknames for the city, such as Filthadelphia, because of its slum areas in North Philly and Skid Row in the Center City area, and frequent lack of adequate street clean-up facilities. Of course, the National League baseball team is called the Phillies.

I was born in Germantown, the nickname for the North Philadelphia neighborhood where immigrants from Germany settled in the 18th Century. Another nicknamed area is Northern Liberties, which just north of Center City. It existed as an independent town from the early 1800s to the time of the Civil War, when it became part of the city of Philadelphia. Incidentally, Northern Liberties was also the prominent red light district of the time, so you can draw your own conclusions as to how it got its nickname.

Society Hill, which had been a severely depressed area just south of City Center along the Delaware River waterfront for the first half of the 20th Century, was renovated and gentrified in the 1950s to become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. While many of the picturesque 19th Century row homes are now occupied by socially-conscious, upwardly wealthy young business people, the snobbish name actually came from the original builders, the Society of Free Traders. They originated the neighborhood in the late 18th Century for homes and businesses of middle-class storekeepers and tavern owners.

Pick your nickname. Philadelphia, Philly, City of Brotherly Love and Quaker City, or those of historic Philadelphia neighborhoods, Northern Liberties, Germantown, Society Hill and many others. They all describe one of America’s most beautiful and historic cities.