Beignets and Mardi Gras beads. Streetcars and second-line strutting. As someone who does marketing consulting for New Orleans-area businesses and other organizations, I’m particularly attuned to how the city's imagery is portrayed in marketing. In many ways, New Orleans is a marketer’s dream. There’s such a diversity of culture and traditions to draw from, coming up with ideas can be easy. On the other hand, when marketers lay on the local color too thick or when they reach lazily into a grab bag of New Orleans signifiers, their messages will come across as hokey and cloying.
As with so much else about New Orleans, the city’s various names and nicknames come packed with connotations and cultural weight. Sometimes a marketer can use those associations to an advantage, and sometimes they’re to be avoided. Here’s my rough rundown of using the city’s names in a marketing context:
The actual name of the city is a beautiful, multifaceted one. It straddles English and French, America and Europe. It’s “new” and old at the same time. It rolls off the tongue with a number of pronunciations depending on context (speech or song) and even neighborhood. It evokes a cornucopia of images, music, and emotions. The true name of New Orleans contains multitudes.
The Big Easy
This nickname feels like an old standard, but it apparently only first appeared in the 1970s and really came into prominence after the 1985 hit movie The Big Easy. This nickname is good to use when looking to emphasize the casual, fun feeling of New Orleans. In that regard, the Big Easy can work for a tourist or local consumer audience, but a businesses seeking business customers would likely want to avoid the nickname’s vibe of laziness or irresponsibility.
As it grew historically, New Orleans hugged a crescent-shaped bend in the Mississippi River. It came to be called the Crescent City. By now the interior of the crescent has been filled in with buildings and development, but the name lives on. Considering that the nickname is based in geography, it’s more or less neutral in cultural connotations. Still, it sounds pleasant enough and vaguely evocative of something or other. Best used as general-purpose variant on “New Orleans.”
Nola, or NOLA
Although “Nola” seems as if it would be an immediately obvious derivation of New Orleans, LA, this nickname is actually quite recent and really took off in the time soon after Hurricane Katrina when New Orleans pride was invigorated and fresh fleur-de-lis tattoos were everywhere. When Emeril Lagasse named one of his restaurants Nola’s in the 1980s, it was unique enough to be novel. Now many companies use NOLA as part of their company name, and indeed, the moniker is well suited for the digital age. The city’s largest newspaper’s website is nola.com, and the official website of the city government is nola.gov.
Nola sounds friendly; it could be the name of a youngish, hip woman with one of those fleur-de-lis tattoos. Nola is the name for a modern, resurgent New Orleans, but it’s already somewhat overused and has been known to annoy crotchety long-time residents.
No one in San Francisco ever says “Frisco,” and no one in New Orleans ever says “N’Awlins.” Locals in both cities will shudder when hearing these names. N’Awlins is a misrepresentation of the New Orleans accent, but that being said, it makes tourists smile and feel a connection to the city. It’s to be used only when going after an out-of-town market and what locals think doesn’t matter at all.
The City that Care Forgot
Similar to The Big Easy, The City that Care Forgot calls attention to New Orleans’ easy-going nature and is not well-suited for B2B marketing. This sobriquet can be traced back to the 1930s. Indeed, it feels a bit dated and overlong, but it still retains a faded charm like New Orleans itself. Because of its odd formulation, it can initially confuse people not familiar with it.
Some Additional New Orleans Nicknames
To refer to the thriving film industry in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana
Birthplace of Jazz
The name says it all.
Who Dat Nation
For talking about New Orleans (and the Gulf South) in regards to the Saints
The name comes from a former red-light district, named for an uptight, anti-vice politician with the last name of Story. Given the name’s romance (a city of stories), ironic origins, and retro-seediness, it’s surprising the name is not in wider use.
America’s Most Interesting City
Used to be a standard on postcards and tourism marketing in the early to mid-20th century. It's long and lacks pizazz, but nostalgia might make it due for a comeback.
Northernmost Caribbean City
Draws attention to how the unique culture and architecture as well as some key business sectors of New Orleans are linked to Caribbean countries and Latin America
While not an actual nickname, using “gumbo” to generically refer to anything about New Orleans falls into the “N’Awlins” trap of aiming for authenticity but embarrassingly missing the mark. After Katrina, countless journalists leaned on the “toxic gumbo” epithet to discuss the polluted floodwaters in the city, and as a more recent example, this NPR piece refers to the city’s “gumbo diversity.” These formulations imply that gumbo is a stew into which a cook throws whatever’s lying around, but in reality gumbo is a carefully constructed dish with unique regional and familial variations.