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Mar 20

The History Behind Manhattan's Nicknames

Posted on March 20, 2020 at 2:28 PM by Tarra Rotstein

It is no secret that we love Manhattan, but why so many nick names? As someone who did not grow up in the region, it seemed odd to have so many naming schemes for one area with names like; The Little Apple®, Konza, Tallgrass, Bluestem, Flint Hills, and of course the ever so popular Manhappenin and Manhappiness. Where did all these names come from? Here's some history on each nicknames for the place we all love so much.
flint hills

First some history on how Manhattan got its official name. On April 27, 1855, the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company departed Cincinnati, Ohio, on the Steamboat Hartford, bound for north-central Kansas. The plan was to head west via the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and Kansas rivers, which led to founding an abolitionist community in Kansas Territory. New York investors in the land company played a substantial role in naming Manhattan for the new town. A new town of Boston was already established where the Hartford was grounded, and Bostonians liked the new arrivals. Once convinced to stay, the town became Manhattan at the newcomer's gracious request. 

downtown manhattan

The Little Apple® nickname came from you guessed it, The Big Apple. Manhattan NY, originally coined the Big Apple term in early 1900s, and made the name part of a '70s tourism campaign. Only natural, then, for Manhattan KS, originally named after the large borough, to follow suit. Manhattan went with a different-sized luminosity, and became “The Little Apple®”, and was first called The Little Apple® back in 1977. 

Now although Manhattan and Konza are not replaced with one another in writing a multitude of local businesses have Konza in the name. The Konza Prairie is one of Manhattan's attractions, which showcase the native prairie regions with rolling hills a.k.a. the Flint Hills. The reason the Konza Prairie was given that name, was out of the donors request for the area to be given an American Indian name. It was soon decided the property would be named after the Kansa (Konza) Indians, whose principal village was located at the Junction of the Blue and Kansas Rivers. (Konza Prairie Biological Station)   

You will also see the naming scheme, Kaw used in organization or event titles such as the Kaw Valley Rodeo. The Kaw Nation refers to the Konza or Kansa Indians, who were from the Kansas region.  

flint hills

The nickname the Flint Hills or as some would call them the tall grass Bluestem prairies or plains got its name because of its unique ecosystem. The tall grass prairie is composed of primarily limestone, which contains bands of chert, a sedimentary rock, also called flint. As the limestone eroded the resilient flint remained leaving the top of the hills with little soil before you hit rock, flint rock. The name the "Flint Hills" dates back to Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike days, early 1800s. With all this talk about Flint it makes me wonder, did the Flint Stones live in Kansas? 

The Manhattan region has unique natural prairies. In these prairies, the dominant native grass is a tall grass called Bluestem. Shorter grasses are not dominant in the area, but the buffalo and gramas grasses can be found in the region. There are two varieties of the dominant tall grass Big and Little Bluestem. The growing season of Bluestem tall grass is in the spring and early summer months. This type of grass at one time covered the majority of eastern to central Kansas. You will find many business in the area that have names that contain Tall grass or Bluestem. 

Tying back into the bluestem theme, Bluemont Central College was converted into what we now know as Kansas State University. Blue referring to the bluestem tall grasses and mont as a shortening for mountain hinting at the hilly landscape.


Through some nonconclusive research it appears the nickname Manhappiness comes from Manhattan locals or students at K-State University. The nickname hints at the fact the university continues to land in the top 10 of Princeton Review accolades like 'students love their college' and 'happiest students'.

The nickname Manhappenin' is often used when talking about a series of events happening in Manhattan. Although we could not track it back to a single source the oldest usage of the word dates back to the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau as they referred to their several of their communication efforts as Manhappenins as early as June 2013. The name Manhappenin' also refers to a K-State student led lifestyle magazine that is published quarterly that started in 2017. 

So no matter what you call Manhattan whether its Manhappenin', the Flint Hills or The Little Apple, we can't wait for you to come visit and learn about the unique history of this area. 


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