Toronto skyline at sunset

10 Interesting Toronto Nicknames: How the City Got Its Names

Like many other places, Toronto is a city with many nicknames. Some are still in use today, while others were retired or have gone out of fashion. So, what exactly are the Toronto nicknames? How did they come about and why? If you’ve ever wondered about these nicknames for Canada‘s largest city, then this post is for you.

Many people in Toronto have different feelings about the city’s monikers for various reasons. I must admit that some of these nicknames seem out of place today, while others make sense, even if they lack originality. It’s not hard to figure out why certain ones stuck, and others didn’t. Let’s take a look.

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Toronto nicknames: What’s in a name?

Toronto’s many nicknames reflect the city’s quirks and are a reflection of its ever-changing and growing nature. Some are still in use today; others were retired.  You might notice some versions of these names when you travel to Toronto, as they have been widely adopted by various businesses and organizations in their names and slogans.

But where does the name Toronto come from anyway? The name Toronto comes from the Mohawk phrase “tkaronto,” meaning “where there are trees standing in water.” While the city has many trees and parks today, they no longer grow in water, but what a sight that must have been in those days.

Toronto Islands
Toronto nicknames often are rooted in practicality.

Toronto Nicknames – a blast from the past

Toronto’s early nicknames were somewhat unoriginal. Then again, are they ever? Nicknames, as we see here, are often rooted in practicality. Call-it-as-you-see-it variety and not terribly exciting.

  • Toronto the Good: Coined in the late 1800s by then-mayor William Howland (1886-87), who was staunchly against any vice, be that sex, gambling, liquor and anything in between. He intended to clean up the city and everything wrong with it. Today, the name is not widely used unless it’s in a sarcastic reference to anything scandalous.
  • Queen City: Another Victorian-era throwback, this one hasn’t been used in decades. The moniker Queen City referred to the largest city, although not a capital, in a country, state, province or territory. Not Queen Victoria. Now you know.
  • The Big Smoke: Probably the least known in origin and perhaps in usage, The Big Smoke is a reference to the city being full of smoke and mirrors. Big reputation with little to show for it. Popularized by Canadian journalist Allan Fotheringham and borrowed from Australian writer Alan Rayburn. I think we have grown in this department with lots to show for today.
  • Hogtown: Toronto was once home to the largest meatpacking company and British Empire’s renowned bacon and pork manufacturer, the William Davies Company. In this case, it’s easy to see how this name came about. While it might still be used among some niche crowds, Hogtown is a throwback to Toronto’s past. “Hogtown” was also used as an insult directed at the city by smaller jurisdictions for a tendency to dominate political affairs at Queens Park.
  • Hollywood North: Toronto has long been a stand-in for many American cities. With plenty of locations, talent and incentives, the local film industry is a major player in Hollywood’s movie productions. Also, Toronto is home to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the world’s biggest international film festivals. A major star fest for obsessed fans and why many people travel to Toronto in September.
  • Condo City: While not officially adopted as a nickname, the reference to Condo City has been popping up among the locals like the condominiums themselves. With the massive number of high rises in the city skyrocketing over the years, it’s easy to see how this moniker came to be.

3 Letter Abbreviation for Toronto (and numbers)

Least imaginative yet oddly practical nicknames for Toronto that make sense.

  • T.O./T-Dot: Least creative yet most practical of all nicknames, T.O. and T-Dot play on the name Toronto and Ontario. It’s universally known and accepted by all Torontonians, with a bit of controversy around it. Many local publications and organizations use the variant on their names or products, ex. BlogTo.
  • The 416: The area code 416, introduced in 1947, became one of Toronto’s popular nicknames. Straightforward and accepted by all.
  • YYZ: Another one of the many Toronto nicknames is derived from a pre-assigned airport area code. All major Canadian airports start with the letter Y, followed by two others that identify the city. It’s unclear how the YZ came to represent Toronto. The most common answer is that the code YZ was first assigned to a train station in what was known as Malton. Today, Malton is part of the city of Mississauga, where the airport is located. The Y was added to differentiate it as an airport, as was the practice with other Canadian airports. 
  • The Six/6/6ix: Love it or hate it, the Toronto nickname the 6/Six/6ix is the newest kid on the block of nicknames. Toronto rapper Drake first used it in his album Views from the 6, and it’s become a popular, if not contentious, name for Toronto. It’s a play on the original six cities that formed Toronto (North York, Scarborough, York, Etobicoke and East York) and Toronto’s area codes 416 and 647. Thanks, Drake.

So, here you have it. Toronto has many unique neighbourhoods that also serve as references to different parts of the city. These monikers are not official Toronto nicknames, but I’m sure they add to the confusion over all the names the locals call the city and its neighbourhoods.

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    Monkey's Tale
    3 May 2022
    10:42am

    I haven’t heard of all of this but nice to learn the origins of Hog Town and The Big Smoke amoung the others. Maggie

      kasiawrites
      3 May 2022
      7:21pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Hog Town was never one I liked, but I totally see how it came about.