What’s in a Nickname? Part 2 of 3

Baghdad by the Bay (The One that Means Something) 


“One day if I do go to heaven, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to heaven. I’ll look around and say, “It ain’t bad but it ain’t San Francisco”.

-Herb Caen

A nickname from Mr San Francisco himself, Herb Caen. The Pulitzer winning journalist coined the nickname in the late 1940s through the book of the same name. The date it was coined is important since Baghdad isn’t exactly the same as it is now. The nickname is a reference to the exotic characteristics of the city- it being a melting pot of people from all walks of life, race, religion and sexual identity. It projects an image of San Francisco as a historical, cultural and intellectual epicenter.

Paris of the West (The One Not Many People Know nor Use)


Gilded Age Mayor James Phelan certainly popularized the phrase in connection with the “City Beautiful” movement and his pet plan to make the city over into a genuinely world-class cultural center. Phelan employed visionary city planner Daniel Burnham to draw up blueprints for a completely new San Francisco, plans which would have given San Francisco Parisian-style radial boulevards, classical monuments, and a massive park system. Though the city was practically erased by the 1906 Great Fire & Earthquake, that opportunity to make this neo-Gallic dream come true more or less passed us by.


What’s in a Nickname? Part 1 of 3


In this 3 part feature, let’s evaluate some of the common San Francisco nicknames.  Unlike one of Shakespeare’s most referenced lines “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”, San Francisco nicknames just do not work like that. Let’s start with 2 of the most infamous:

Frisco (The One Most Locals Frown Upon)


“Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. It’s more like SanfrnSISco.”

-Herbert Eugene “Herb” Caen, San Francisco Journalist/ Pulitzer Winner

So who calls it “Frisco”? The common belief is that visitors/tourists do. And boy do a lot of locals get up in arms about it when they do. If even Jack London, himself wrote a short story called  “And ‘FRISCO Kid Came Back”, why does it evoke a “No” from a majority of locals?

Did Herb Caen’s “Don’t Call It Frisco” novel start a revolutionary trend? Maybe. Or is it because it’s really not representative of San Francisco in any way. The mere shortening of a city name is just not enough to make it an unofficial nickname. Think about it. Should we forget about The Windy City and just call Chicago “Chic”? Shall we start calling The Big Easy “Norly”? Certainly not.

San Fran (The One That’s Meh, At Best)


“All Spanish names and expressions are proudly retained and you must never be heard using the irreverent abbreviation ’Frisco, the only curtailment admissible to the dignity of the citizens being that which they frequently use, ‘San Fran.’”

-TS Hudson, author of ‘A Scamper Through America”

Another nickname that is believed to be popular with visitors and tourists. Let’s add young professionals who recently relocated from other states, if not countries. Some say it sounds like it has a cool factor to it. No it doesn’t. Stop trying to make “San Fran” happen. It’s not going to sit well with a lot of locals. It’s the whole being uncool stemming from trying to be cool situation we have here.

Sure it receives less of a very adamant “No, don’t call it that!” reaction but it still isn’t acceptable by most native’s standards. In the end, it’s just as lazy and uncreative as Frisco.

Check back next Friday for Part 2 of this 3 Part Feature. In the meantime, enjoy our beautiful city!