Gotham

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Here’s a question of bats and goats from Ian:

I am from a small village outside Nottingham called Gotham. My friend says Gotham City is named after this tiny village, as the writer of
Batman was obsessed by the mad men of Gotham legend, which the village is locally famous for. So answer me this, is he telling the truth?

He is telling both truth and untruth. Bill Finger, whose fingers co-created Batman, wanted to change Batman’s stamping ground from New York City to a similar but fictional location. After considering names including Civic City (tautological!) Capital City (F- for effort, Finger!) and Coast City (bor-inggggggg!!!!) he flipped through the NYC phonebook – presumably looking for listings for an ‘Emergency Pseudonym Writer’ – and chanced upon Gotham Jewelers. This pleased him and thus Bill Finger pinched the name and put it into the fourth issue of Batman, back in 1940, without so much as a yowl from the mad men of Gotham, Nottinghamshire.

However! The mad men of Gotham can give themselves big pats on their big mad backs because without them, Gotham Jewelers would have been called something else, and Batman would have found himself decking the villains of Cash 4 Gold City. Next time you’re waiting to see the dentist, flip through that copy of Salmagundi Magazine that’s been in the waiting room since 11th November 1807. Therein you’ll see Washington Irving referring to New York City as Gotham, wrily suggesting that the city shared some of the traits of the mythical idiots of Gotham. The 19th century crowd went wild for this joke, but give them a break – they had cholera epidemics to deal with at the time, and almost anything is funnier than a cholera epidemic.

So to answer your question, Ian: the writers of Batman were not obsessed with Nottinghamshire villages, but some local businesses were obsessed with a trend started by an author who might have been obsessed with Nottinghamshire villages, but at the very least was mildly interested in one of them. Just imagine if Washington Irving had been a fan of another Nottinghamshire village; perhaps Bunny, or Papplewick, or even Cropwell Bishop – oh, how much more gentle the Batman realm would have seemed! Not that Gotham itself is that cool either, since it derives from the Old English words ‘goat home’. Wouldn’t it have been great if The Dark Knight Rises, instead of featuring the machinations of corporate bore Miranda Tate, had centred around a malevolent goat looking to seize back its rightful leaseholds? Christopher Nolan, call me!

Since we all know from Trapped in the Closet how creative R Kelly is, it’s particularly galling that he didn’t make more of the goat association. What a missed opportunity.

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