Unlike, say, the Big Apple or the Eternal City, Houston has never quite settled on one definitive nickname. A Canadian newspaper has just announced that we have a new one, but more on that in a second...
Beginning in the 1870s, locals were calling Houston the Magnolia City, in honor of the fragrant native magnolia groves that were even then being fast devoured by urban development. Today, that name and association lives on pretty much only in the Magnolia Brewery building on Franklin downtown, and the Brewery Tap bar is about all that remains of Magnolia Beer, the city's most prominent locally-owned and brewed brew prior to the recent advent of St. Arnold's.
In the early 1900s, some local African-American journalists called the city Heavenly Houston for its relatively enlightened (by contemporary Deep South standards) racial climate and bustling economy. Today, that name lives on only in the NFSW Web Site of this (history-minded?) local escort.
Baghdad on the Bayou is another old one, but recent events on both the world and Gulf Coast stage have rendered it rather obsolete. In the nickname's mid-20th Century heyday, it was meant to connote merely a sprawling, sweltering city on a sluggish waterway. Since then, Saddam and Gulf Wars I and II changed the way Americans thought of the Iraqi capital. And in the aftermath of Katrina, some reporters saw lawless, post-storm New Orleans as a closer approximation of modern-day Baghdad.
The blander Bayou City came along at about the same time as Baghdad on the Bayou and has fared better. It has the advantage of being accurate and the disadvantage of being utterly boring.
Since 1967, Space City has been Houston's official nickname, but hardly anybody uses it anymore. NASA's campus is barely in the City of Houston, the moon landing was a long time ago, and sad to say, the shuttle disasters have been the most noteworthy events in space travel since then.
In keeping with the death of poetry in sports nicknaming, in which yesteryear's Sultan of Swat or Splendid Splinter is today's A-Rod or Bags, there's H-Town. Meh. The same goes for our other sports-related moniker: Clutch City. The Dream and Rudy T have left the Summit, folks. Hell, the Summit has left the Summit.
H-Town was also the first of several Houston nicknames with hip-hop flava. Others include Hustletown and two monikers inspired by our city's heavy abuse of codeine cough syrup: the City of Syrup and Screwston, so named for the process -- called "screwing" -- of slowing down rap tunes so they sound attuned to codeine-dreaming ears.
Wikipedia lists a few more hyper-boosterish ones that Hair Balls was unaware of. All of them sound like they were products of employees of the Greater Houston Convention Center and Visitors Bureau on ecstasy benders. There's "the Energy Capital of the World," the 1970s-boomtown era "Capital of the Sunbelt" or "Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt," and the pukesomely self-congratulatory "Big Heart," which we allegedly earned through our response to the influx of Katrina exiles. That now seems a long time ago, and in any case, Big Hot might be more accurate in the long run.
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And now we are supposedly "the Petro Metro."
No less an authority than newly-elected mayor Annise Parker says so:
"We are the Petro Metro but we are also a car city," she said last month, in remarks introducing Houston's seemingly-unlikely attempts to spearhead the electric car industry.
Electric cars? If those things take off too well, that would kill our own favorite local nickname: "The City of Refined Oil and Crude People."