Popular nicknames for Memphis, Tennessee include the bluff city, the mid-south, the river city, and the queen city.
Memphis, Tennessee was first founded in 1819. Located on the Mississippi River, this southern port town was named after the city of Memphis in Ancient Egypt.
Both were port towns, both had major rivers nearby, and both promised to be the most influential cities in the area. However, while Memphis, Egypt no longer exists, Memphis, Tennessee is still going stronger than ever!
List of Memphis Nicknames
Check out what the locals and tourists are calling Memphis.
1. The Bluff City
‘Bluff City’ is the most famous Memphis nickname. It got this name because of the city’s location and the presence of various bluffs along the Mississippi River near the city.
The most famous bluff in the area located about 40 miles north of Memphis is the Chickasaw Bluff, named for the Chickasaw people. This is basically an area of high ground that rises over 50–200 feet above the Mississippi River flood plain.
Located between Fulton in Lauderdale County and Memphis in Shelby county, this elevation consists of four smaller bluffs that make up one big bluff.
There’s another bluff that’s closer to downtown Memphis. It’s located at Madison Avenue, close to the University of Memphis Law School.
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2. The Mid-South
The Mid-South is a region in the southern parts of the country that contains portions of seven different states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
The Memphis metropolitan area lies in this region, which is why it became known as the city of ‘The Mid-South.’
Even local news stations began referring to Memphis as the Mid-South. There’s also a fair that used to be held in Memphis each year that goes by the same name.
In addition, Memphis is home to the Mid-South Coliseum, which was built in 1964. This one-of-a-kind building has been nicknamed the ‘Entertainment Capitol of the Mid-South,’ and for good reason.
It’s seen musical icons perform, such as Elvis and the Beatles. Plus, it’s also been a sports venue for a wide range of athletic performances, from basketball to professional wrestling.
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3. The River City
Between 1896 and 1902, the renowned journalist C.P.J. Mooney worked as managing editor of The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. During this time, he began identifying Memphis as synonymous with the Mississippi River Valley. He even went so far as to describe this area as ‘the richest agricultural region in the world.”
As a result, Memphis became known as the ‘River City.’
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4. The Queen City
As mentioned above, Memphis, Tennessee got its name from one of the most important cities in the ancient world, Memphis, Egypt, loosely translated as ‘the place of good abode.’
As soon as it was founded in 3100 BCE, it became a significant cultural and commercial hub, especially during the Early Dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt from about 3150–2613 BCE. Even during the Old Kingdom, which lasted from about 2613 until 2181 BCE, Memphis remained an important city.
Yet, it wasn’t just trade and commerce that attracted visitors. The city was also filled with numerous religious temples that attracted tourists year-round. This is why many famous kings and pharaohs had their monuments built in or near Memphis, including, of course, the Great Pyramids.
Even Alexander the Great had himself proclaimed the pharaoh at Memphis.
Now, fast forward to the modern city of Memphis. Since it has taken it upon itself to carry the name of this great ancient city, it felt it also had to be dubbed something quite as regal as well. Hence, came the nickname ‘The Queen City.’
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5. The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Here’s an interesting fact: nearly 20% of the earliest artists who were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame were Memphis natives.
It’s also believed that the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll recording, Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston& His Delta Cats, was made in the Memphis Recording Service in 1951. Later, this recording studio became known as Sun Studio, which is still a working studio.
Also, let’s not forget Memphis is where the home of Elvis Presley still resides to this day. ‘Graceland’ isn’t just any home; it’s a 13.8-acre estate with a stately mansion, beautiful private gardens, and a pool in the shape of a guitar. It’s open to the public, so make sure you book a tour the next time you’re in town!
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6. Home of the Blues
It’s worth mentioning that Memphis isn’t home to just Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s also considered the birthplace of rap, jazz, gospel, and, of course, the blues.
Case in point, this city is iconic when it comes to music, no matter the genre or style.
7. Soul of the South
There are no limitations on how music has impacted this southern town. That’s why, besides rock ‘n’ roll and blues, Memphis is also known for its soul music, hence the name ‘Soul of the South.’
Here, you’ll find the only museum in the world dedicated to the preservation of the legacy of American soul music. The Stax Museum of American Soul is located at the original site where the Stax Records studio used to be.
To help pay tribute to all the amazing artists and performers who recorded there, the museum displays over 2,000 memorabilia, including stage costumes, instruments, vintage recording equipment, and more.
Another iconic museum is the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, developed and created by the Smithsonian Institute. It’s designed to tell the story of all the pioneers of music who overcame great adversities to create the music they love, which has withstood the test of time.
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8. Grind City
This nickname is more recent. It’s exclusively associated with the city’s NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies.
After all, their motto is ‘Grit and Grind.’ Thus, the nickname ‘Grind City’ was born.
9. The BBQ Capital of the World
If we had to choose just one thing that Memphis is famous for, it’d have to be barbecue. The people of this Tennessee city are proud of their barbecue and love it so much that they put it on almost everything!
It’s not surprising since they’re inarguably the best at it! So, it’s no wonder tourists gave Memphis the fitting nickname of the ‘BBQ Capital of the World.’
There you have it: the iconic list of Memphis nicknames! We also gave you a bit of back story to explain how and why it has those nicknames.
Jason Dempsey is the CEO and Co-Founder of Home City Living. After abandoning the corporate world in order to indulge his wanderlust, Jason founded Home City Living with his partner Rose to create the premier source of travel information and inside local knowledge on the web to help other would-be global explorers and seekers learn to spread their wings and fly.