8 Spokane Nicknames and the Reasons for Them

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A lake near a clock tower and red, orange, and green trees during the fall
Spokane's stunning scenery and sporting events influenced many of its monikers

Spokane, located in Eastern Washington State, was founded in 1881. The city got its start around the picturesque Spokane River and has since grown into the second most populous city in the state. With a history spanning nearly 150 years, it should be no surprise that residents have come up with various nicknames for the city over the decades.

You're probably familiar with some of Spokane's most popular nicknames, like Lilac City, which references the lilac blooms spotted all throughout town. Then there's the official nickname for the city: Hooptown USA. But what about the city's less common monikers?

In this article, you'll learn about eight Spokane nicknames that you're most likely to read or hear. You'll also discover the stories behind the slogans, as well as some interesting facts related to them.

8 Nicknames for Spokane

Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock.com
Cable cars over a waterfall and pool with greenery and buildings to the side
The city name Spokane, taken from Spokane Falls, means Children of the Sun

Sun City

The name for the city of Spokane comes from the Spokane Native American Tribe, which originally inhabited the region. Spokane translates to Children of the Sun, which, over the years, has birthed the Sun City nickname.

The city wasn't named because of the Children of the Sun moniker. In fact, the town was first called Spokan Falls because of the falls at the heart of the city. After a few years, the "e" was added to make it Spokane Falls. Then, in the 1890s, the city name was shortened to just Spokane.

Even if it's not one of the most famous landmarks in Washington State, Spokane Falls is still the second-largest urban waterfall in the United States. Riverfront Park, which encompasses the falls, attracts more than three million visitors annually.

Lilac City

Although it may not be Spokane's official nickname, Lilac City is the most popular and well-known moniker. Its origins date back to 1906 when the first two lilac bushes were planted in Spokane. Six years later, in 1912, park superintendent John Duncan received 128 lilac plants from Rochester, New York. This marked the beginning of Spokane's renowned Lilac Garden in Manito Park.

But it was in the 1930s that the Lilac City nickname became common. During that decade, Spokane leaders asked a gardening club to plant lilac bushes at locations throughout the city. Today, you'll see the most extensive collection at Manito Park, although lilacs can be found all across Spokane.

Inland Empire is one of the oldest Spokane nicknames relating to early settlements
Inland Empire was used in the 1800s to refer to Spokane and its surrounding areas

Inland Empire

Spokane and the surrounding area became known as the Inland Empire in the late 1800s. Then, most of the region's residents lived near the coast or along major trade routes. Much of the interior of the Pacific Northwest was unmapped and unsettled outside of the native population.

While the territory spans more than just eastern Washington, Spokane and other areas along the Spokane River have always been at the heart of the Inland Empire. Today, the region is called the Inland Northwest. Still, you'll find the Inland Empire nickname used primarily in and around Spokane to reference the city's cultural heritage.

Hooptown USA

Although the Lilac City moniker may be older and more popular among residents, the official nickname for Spokane is Hooptown USA. City officials voted to make Hooptown USA Spokane's slogan in 2021 as a tribute to Spokane Hoopfest. A fun Washington fact is that this event is the largest 3-on-3 basketball competition in the world.

The outdoor basketball tournament began in 1989, and the first annual event had around 500 teams participating. Today, you'll find over 6,000 teams taking part each year. And that's not even mentioning the more than 200,000 fans who pile into Hooptown USA for the event every June.

Buildings and trees near a river with walkways over it
Spoke Vegas is one of the Spokane nicknames due to the city's entertainment spots

Spoke Vegas

The nickname Spoke Vegas, sometimes written as Spoke-Vegas, alludes to the Nevada city of Las Vegas. It's a newer nickname, most commonly used to reference the large casinos around Spokane and the surrounding areas.

While modern casinos began popping up in the 1990s, gambling has long been a part of Spoke Vegas' history. Following the Great Spokane Fire of 1889 (less than a decade after the Northern Pacific Railway first came to town), gambling became so commonplace that even downtown real estate was changing hands over a deck of cards or dice roll.

The Spoke Vegas nickname also refers to the city's many entertainment options. Spokane may not be at the same level as Las Vegas in terms of shows, but performance venues like the Bing Crosby Theater still attract world-class talent to the city.

The Kan

This one is straightforward: the Kan, sometimes written as the 'Kan, is just a shortening of Spokane. If you're from out of town, the Kan nickname is an easy way to remember Spokane ends with the "can" sound and not "cane."

The Kan is one of the most popular slang nicknames among locals. It's the most likely alternative name for Spokane to hear in casual conversation. It's a Spokane nickname typically used positively as a proud reference to the city.

Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock.com
A road near trees and a tall clock tower on a snowy day
Skate City USA refers to the city's ice skating events and winter outdoor attractions

Skate City USA

Ice skating has a long history in Spokane, so much so that it's become known as Skate City USA. Ice skating in Spokane dates back to the 1800s, with the sport's popularity peaking in the 1930s.

But even if skating isn't as trendy as it was in the early 20th century, you'll still find several regional figure skating clubs. The city holds amateur competitions regularly and even hosted the US Figure Skating Championships in 2007 and 2010.

Today, one of Spokane's most famous ice skating attractions is the Numerica Skate Ribbon at Riverfront Park. It's a hard-surface roller skating area throughout much of the year. Still, the ribbon transforms into a public ice skating destination every winter.

The Spoke

Although it may not be as new as the Hooptown USA slogan (which only became the official nickname in 2021), the Spoke is also related to basketball. It has a relatively recent origin as well. The Spoke nickname was given to the city of Spokane in 2007 by Mike Brey, basketball coach for the University of Notre Dame.

Brey said he was getting "good vibes for the Spoke" before this team played against Winthrop University during an NCAA tournament in Spokane. Unfortunately for Brey, his premonition ended up being wrong. Winthrop would go on to beat Notre Dame 74-64. However, the Spoke nickname has stuck around and is occasionally heard in casual conversation, especially about sports.

In Summary

Even if you're not a Spokane local, you've probably heard the Lilac City nickname before. You may have even heard of Hooptown USA or Skate City USA, especially if you're interested in those sports. But some of the less common nicknames, like Spoke Vegas and Sun City, are likely to have been new.

While these eight nicknames are the most popular ways to refer to Spokane, you may hear others from time to time. After all, any city with nearly a century and a half of history, like Spokane, is bound to have plenty of obscure nicknames to discover.

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Written by Jonathan Davis

JDavis WRITER Jonathan is a Florida-based travel writer who can't seem to stay in one place for long. With more than two decades of trips under his belt, Jonathan has a wealth of information to share about travel within the United States and abroad.

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