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Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street | © Infrogmation of New Orleans/WikiCommons
Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street | © Infrogmation of New Orleans/WikiCommons

Why Is New Orleans Known As ‘The Big Easy’?

Picture of Rebeca Trejo
Updated: 28 September 2016
New Orleans received its official title in 1718 when the French, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, founded the city and named it after Philippe II, Duc D’Orléans (a member of the royal family of France who served as regent from 1715 to 1723). However, the origin as to how – or why – the city earned ‘The Big Easy’ nickname still remains somewhat obscure.

One of the most popular theories discussed over the years by locals points to the late Times-Picayune gossip columnist Betty Guillaud, who allegedly popularized New Orleans’ undisputed nickname while chronicling the city’s peculiar lifestyle.  During the late 1960s, Guillaud began using the term to contrast how different life was (and still is) in ‘The Big Easy’ compared to the ‘The Big Apple.’

Another common theory accredits New Orleans’ uncorroborated label to the city’s rich musical heritage. During the early 20th century, due to the sheer number of venues where one could perform, the city became nationally recognized as a haven for struggling jazz and blues musicians. From playing at parks and performing on the streets to booking private parties and nightclub appearances, the Big Easy was always (and continues to be) an open and supportive land that embraces an aspiring musician’s thirst for performing, allowing them to make a living by booking easy gigs while honing their craft at the same time. The nickname may, therefore, have perpetuated through time to reference the ease with which New Orleans laboring musicians pursued their art.

Then there was James Conaway’s 1970 crime novel titled ‘The Big Easy,’ which turned into a 1987 national blockbuster featuring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin, and ultimately pushed the term onto the national vocabulary scope. According to the author the phrase had never been penned to print until the book, which follows the adventures of a New Orleans police reporter, was published. He argued that, while working as a police reporter for the Times-Picayune himself, he overheard two men chatting and the phrase ‘The Big Easy’ came up one night and it automatically stuck with him.

Other possible beginnings have been attributed to the relaxed attitude New Orleans residents had toward alcohol consumption during the Prohibition years. The ‘noble experiment’, which ran from 1920 until 1933, was pursued to solve social problems, crime and corruption – however, the national banning of alcohol in America never quite made it to NOLA. Down South, and perhaps more than any other city in the country, people who wished to enjoy a drink and party continued to have a very active nightlife because of the city’s many hotspots and inconsistent drinking-law enforcement. The Big Easy term might have been coined to credit how, continuing today, one can wonder down the street with an open container filled with booze without getting in trouble – keeping alive the New Orlenian tradition of letting the good times roll!

Today, the nickname’s origin, among the many in circulation, may never be deciphered – however, the city’s easy-going, laid-back attitude toward anything life-related could never be disputed. What is guaranteed? That ‘The Big Easy’ is a synonym to the city’s spirit, that it defines how New Orleanian’s embrace life, that people here do things their on way without ever fearing judgement, and most importantly, that New Orleans rule – above any other place in the world – all year round.

By Rebeca Trejo