The origins of Scotland's city nicknames explained

Scotland's six cities, and yes for the purposes of this piece there are six (what constitutes a Scottish city could fill a whole book of opinion) are all known by a variety of names.
The Nor' Loch in Edinburgh. Picture; TSPLThe Nor' Loch in Edinburgh. Picture; TSPL
The Nor' Loch in Edinburgh. Picture; TSPL

From friendly nicknames adopted by proud residents, from the insulting suggestions hurled by sporting rivals, there’s a whole range of options when describing Scotland’s biggest cities.

But just where do these nicknames come from?

We take a look at some of the famous monikers that are applied to Scotland’s cities, and their origins.

Glasgow Green. Picture: TSPLGlasgow Green. Picture: TSPL
Glasgow Green. Picture: TSPL

Edinburgh – Auld Reekie

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s a nickname that is used by proud Edinburgh residents – but it is clear that the name didn’t have the nicest of backgrounds.

The pristine sight of the Princes Street Gardens, which are a hotspot for tourists and locals alike, didn’t always look that way.

The “lost loch” of Nor Loch used to be at the bottom of the steep hill below Edinburgh’s famous castle, where the gardens now stand.

Aberdeen skyline. Picture: Donald StewartAberdeen skyline. Picture: Donald Stewart
Aberdeen skyline. Picture: Donald Stewart

The stagnant waters of the loch, which were subject to the dumping of human effluence, even bodies, and waste from the city’s slaughterhouses, are thought to have given partial rise to the Auld Reekie nickname.

It was also believed to have been down to the smoke of coal fires that would have heated the residents of Edinburgh which kicked up the famous stink.

Whatever it was that left Edinburgh ‘reeking’ the nickname has stuck all the way to the 21st Century, even been used by local businesses.

The origins may have been enough to turn your nose up, but in modern times there’s no denying its an affectionate way to describe our capital.

Perth High Street. Picture: Phil WilkinsonPerth High Street. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Perth High Street. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Glasgow – Dear Green Place

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A derivation of the Gaelic word for Glasgow, Dear Green Place has become a name symbolic with one of Glasgow’s best feature – the parks.

Scotland’s biggest city has more green spaces per capita than any other city in Europe, and has over 90 parks and gardens.

From the biggest known to the hidden gems, everyone has their favourite park or garden in Glasgow.

The Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 across the Moray Firth. Picture: Tim Riches [] (CC)The Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 across the Moray Firth. Picture: Tim Riches [] (CC)
The Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 across the Moray Firth. Picture: Tim Riches [] (CC)

They have been the settings of all manner of art, and everyone’s way of summing up the Dear Green Place is different.

Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city, has a special place in the hearts of many.

It is believed to be here that James Watt, thought the father of the Industrial Revolution, realised a crucial idea for his steam engine.

Aberdeen – The Granite City

The discovery of oil in the North Sea has transformed the city on the North East Coast of Scotland, both figuratively and literally.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The name is obvious if you care to look at any of the city’s iconic old buildings – which used the readily available granite in construction.

Dundee's Tay Bridge. Picture: Ian RutherfordDundee's Tay Bridge. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Dundee's Tay Bridge. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Granite Mile, the long stretch of road down Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare of Union Street, is home to many of these buildings.

Locals use the term with pride as their old buildings don’t require as much upkeep as those of other cities that used different material.

Aberdeen is also home to Union Bridge, which is the largest single-span granite bridge anywhere in the world.

Aberdeen granite was also used in the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge.

Dundee - The City of the three J’s

The three J’s – jam, jute and journalism, were three of the great city’s historic large employers and most famous exports.

The latter of those, the only one which remains, is due to one of the city’s best known businessmen D.C Thomson.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was famous for his newspapers and comic creations like Desperate Dan and The Broons – and also his prickly personality – famously banning mention in his publications of then Dundee MP Winston Churchill even as the Second World War began in earnest.

The first j came from the possibly apocryphal tale that a Dundee wife had stumbled upon marmalade using spare oranges.

Dundee was for centuries famous for jute – a natural fibre that could be used for a whole host of purposes.

Perth – The Fair City

Like Dumfries and Ayr, Perth has used its connection to an iconic Scottish writer – in Perth’s case Sir Walter Scott.

Scott’s novel The Fair Maid of Perth was set in the city, and the historical book has given Perth the famous nickname.

There is even a statue of the Fair Maid in the city centre, and even without the novel, it is hard not to concede that Perth is indeed a fair city.

Inverness – The Capital of the Highlands

Inverness’ nickname is fairly self explanatory. The stunning city is often seen as the gateway, in transport terms, to Scotland’s boundless northern landscape.

The largest settlement in the Highlands, Inverness is the home of Loch Ness and has traded on its status as the Highland capital to boost tourism.