New York City is an interesting town with a rich history, its nickname is no less interesting.
It is well known that Gotham City is the hometown of Batman and most people also know that Gotham refers to New York City. However, few are aware of why New York is called Gotham or the interesting history behind the name.
The Origins of Gotham
Gotham is Anglo-Saxon for “goat-town” and the name was originally held by a village in England’s Nottinghamshire. Such a town still exists today. The legend goes that in the 1200’s the bad King John (think Robin Hood’s nemesis) wanted to build a castle near the village of Gotham. However the villagers did not want the King’s retinue living so close by – nor did they want to pay the increased taxes that the castle would call for. So to deter King John the residents decided to act insane. A few of their antics included running around madly in circles, attempting to drown an eel, and trying to fish the moon out of a pond. Fortunately these tactics worked and King John left the village alone. In 1550 the tales of these villagers’ antics was published in the book The Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, establishing Gotham as a place of deception, lunacy, and twisted cleverness.
New York City Named Gotham
The name Gotham was first applied to New York City on February 13, 1807 by Washington Irving – the author of “Rip van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. In the Salgamundi Papers, a magazine named after a salad, Irving wrote a letter apparently describing New Yorkers as ‘the good citizens of the wonder loving city of Gotham’, noting that ‘One of the most tickling, dear, mischievous pleasures of this life is to laugh in one’s sleeve – to sit snug in a corner unnoticed and unknown and hear the wise men of Gotham”. It is presumed that Irving viewed the citizens of New York as wise fools similar to the citizens of the English Gotham.
Popularization of the Gotham Nickname
Washington Irving was well read in his own time and so the popularization of the name Gotham is not all too surprising. However, as many a Batman fan knows it was the DC comic that continues to popularize the name in modern times. Batman has been living in a Gotham City closely resembling New York since 1940 and continues to rescue the city from devilish villains.
New York City has many names – the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, Gotham. Perhaps it is this last name that holds the most interesting history of all.