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What's in a Name?


Nowadays, neighborhood sobriquets are designed by marketing gurus to make an area more appealing. In 100 years, that story will be forgotten, but the names will remain. We often forget that the names of our oldest neighborhoods hold a deep history and sense of place. Here are some of our favorite neighborhoods and neighborhood names, and the people, geographies, and stories from which they came.

Back Bay, Boston \n
Named for the fact that, between 1857 and 1882, the back part of the bay between Boston and Cambridge was literally filled in, creating the neighborhood.
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn \n
Named for the British Duke of Bedford and Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York.
Bucktown, Chicago \n
Named for the goats that Polish immigrants raised in the neighborhood. A male goat is called a buck.
Echo Park, Los Angeles\n
Named for the echoes that occurred when workers shouted while building a local reservoir.
Five Sisters, Burlington\n
Named because the five main streets in the area—Catherine, Caroline, Margaret, Charlotte, and Marian—were named for the daughters of the developer.
Frogtown, St. Paul \n
Theories about the neighborhood’s name abound: because of the area’s French settlers, because a Catholic priest witnessed croaking frogs in the area, or because railroad couplers were known as “frogs,” and the area was full of railroad workers.
Greenwich Village, Manhattan \n
Named in the 1670s for Greenwyck, the town on Long Island where the neighborhood’s developer, Yellis Mandeville, had lived previously.
Haight Ashbury, San Francisco \n
Named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. The origin of the name Haight is unknown. Ashbury was a city supervisor at the time.
The Mission District, San Francisco \n
Named for the nearby Spanish mission, which, while officially known as San Francisco de Asis, is commonly known as Mission Dolores, after a nearby creek.
Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati \n
When the predominately German immigrants of the area returned over the Miami and Erie Canal from work in downtown Cincinnati, they would say they were going “over the Rhine.”
Park Slope, Brooklyn \n
Named for its location on a hill leading up to Prospect Park.
Pigtown, Baltimore\n
Named for the fact that it was the area where the railroad released cargoes of pigs to go to the city’s slaughterhouses.
Silver Lake, Los Angeles \n
Originally called Ivanhoe, the neighborhood underwent a name change when the local reservoir was named after Herman Silver, who was one of Los Angeles’s first water commissioners.
SoCo, Austin, Texas \n
Named for its proximity to South Congress Avenue, which was itself named for the location where, according to legend, Mirabeau Lamar, vice president of the Texas Republic, shot a buffalo and declared the location to be the new seat of the Texan government.
Soulard, St. Louis\n
Named for Antoine Soulard, a French explorer who first surveyed the area for the king of Spain.
TangleTown, Seattle \n
Named for the fact that the area is where the city’s orderly grid system of streets breaks down.
Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn \n
Named after a battle in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in an attempt to lure Irish immigrants to settle in the area.
Watts, Los Angeles\n
Named for the neighborhood’s developer, Charles Watts.
Whittier, Minneapolis \n
Named for the local primary school, which was named for the 19th-century poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier.
Wicker Park, Chicago\n
Named for the local park, which in turn was named after the developers Charles and Joel Wicker, who donated a parcel of land to the city in the 1870s to build a public park.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn\n
Named for Colonel Jonathan Williams, the engineer who surveyed the land, which had been purchased by Richard Woodhull.
Wrigleyville, Chicago \n
Named for its proximity to the Cubs’ stadium, Wrigley Field, which was named after the Cubs’ owner, the chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., in 1926.

This article first appeared in GOOD Issue 19: The Neighborhoods Issue. You can read more from the issue here, or read the introduction here. \n

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