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The Big Apple, the City of Brotherly Love, the Golden Gate -- New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco all have nicknames.

Now Boston wants one, too. So the Greater Boston Convention and Tourist Bureau is sponsoring a contest as part of a ''creative new marketing program.''

The city already has several cognomens. ''Beantown,'' dating from the days when Boston baked beans were famous, is thought to be a bit too low-brow. ''The Hub'' (short for ''The Hub of the Universe'') is still in use, but is seen as overreaching.

How about ''The Athens of America,'' an appellation dating from 1819?''We at the bureau,'' says its president, Robert E. Cumings, with obvious civic pride, ''tend to think more of Athens as the Boston of Greece.''

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