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Why is New Orleans Called "the Big Easy"?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Just about everyone has heard the city of New Orleans, located in Louisiana along the Mississippi River, referred to as "The Big Easy." While the term has been used in everything from literature to sales brochures and even movies, its origins are somewhat obscure. There are actually several theories on how New Orleans came to have the nickname.

The nickname may be related to the rich musical heritage of New Orleans. The city has long been a haven for jazz and blues musicians who wanted a place to hone their craft. Legend has it that the earliest use of the Big Easy had to do with the fact that there were so many ways for a good musician to make a living in New Orleans. From performing on the streets and in the parks to playing private parties and in nightclubs, no other American city was said to be so open and so supportive of musical artists. The nickname might have been coined to refer to the ease with which a struggling musician could find work and study music at the same time.

Another possible origin for the nickname is connected to the relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption that was found in New Orleans, even during the days of Prohibition. The city, perhaps more than any other, continued to enjoy an active night life that offered everything from bathtub gins to the finest wines. Anyone who wanted to enjoy a drink or two could easily find something to his or her liking among the many nightspots of New Orleans. The name could. therefore, have referred to the great ease of enjoying an evening with the alcohol of one’s choice.

The relatively low cost of living in New Orleans, in comparison to many major US cities, has also been suggested as the origin of the nickname. Musicians were not the only professionals who could easily find work in the city. Coupled with affordable housing and plenty of fresh food and drink, even a modest paycheck would allow a relatively comfortable standard of living.

Whatever the origins of the nickname, there is no doubt that references to New Orleans as the Big Easy have increased dramatically since the release of a film of the same name in 1987. Set in New Orleans, the film introduced the culture and atmosphere of the city to many people that only knew it through travelogues. Today, just about everyone knows exactly what is being discussed when they hear the nickname mentioned. Whether conjuring images of an easy lifestyle, plenty of entertainment, or a place where music plays day and night, there is no doubt the Big Easy is now firmly a part of the national vocabulary, and will be for many years to come.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including America Explained, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon999882 — On Apr 04, 2018

For me, the bigger question is why they call it Nola.

By anon991306 — On Jun 10, 2015

The accents in the movie (as with most shows about New Orleans) totally sucked. It would be nice if they could get it right!

By anon229051 — On Nov 11, 2011

I have lived in New Orleans my entire life (38 years) and for as long as I can remember, it's been referred to as "The Big Easy." It has to do with the jazz and culture of the people (mainly creole) whose demeanor was always "easy going."

The movie was given that name because they wanted viewers to know it was about New Orleans! Sheesh, people. Read a book!

By anon228327 — On Nov 08, 2011

I was born and raised in New Orleans and we never called or heard of it called the big easy until that movie came out in '87., for whatever reason. I even heard that there was supposed to be a contest for a nickname, but NOLA already had one. It is called "The Crescent City" and "the city care forgot". And yes, the French Quarter was built on a higher area.

By icecream17 — On Sep 19, 2010

Latte31-To make matters worse, there were few jobs in the area because damaged businesses had to rebuild and that took time.

The only area that did not receive too much damage was the French Quarters. Thank goodness because that is the tourist area that brings New Orleans the most money. Most of the nightclubs and restaurants are in that area.

The news reports speculated that the French Quarters were built on higher ground which is why it was not affected.

I know now that New Orleans is now seeing a resurgence of construction and there is actually an active construction building industry in the area.

Companies are coming back, but the crime levels still remain among the highest in the country. New Orleans is a unique city that specializes in Cajun cuisine. Cajun cuisine is a little hot and spicy very much like the city itself.

By latte31 — On Sep 19, 2010

Oasis11- I remember that storm. It was devastating. The problem with the Big Easy is that since the city is built below sea level the home owner’s insurance now is very expensive.

Many of the inhabitants of New Orleans did not have insurance and most of the homes were uninhabitable. Although the city has a rich history, it has a high level of poverty and many residents can not afford the home owners insurance.

Some insurance, if it is still available can run as high as $4,500 a year for a $100,000 home. Before Katrina, the insurance for a similar home would be about $500 a year.

By oasis11 — On Sep 19, 2010

Suntan12-I’ve rented the Big Easy DVD and I liked the movie. It is a bit intense, so there will definitely be some nail biting.

I have to say that I think that New Orleans is an interesting city. Unfortunately after hurricane Katrina, some of the neighborhoods are sparse because people have not returned.

The lower 9th ward, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in New Orleans has only had 20% of its residents return five years after hurricane Katrina.

By suntan12 — On Sep 19, 2010

The Big Easy 1987 movie with Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid was set in New Orleans.

In the movie, Quaid plays a police lieutenant that falls in love with the prosecutor played by Barkin.

The Big Easy Movie was filmed in New Orleans and it revolves around Quaid trying to investigate a murder of a mobster.

He later develops ethical problems which not only complicate his relationship with Barkin, but it also threatens his career. The movie was critically acclaimed and to this day it is considered an excellent suspenseful drama.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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