CLOSE
Original image
iStock

How 9 New Orleans Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Original image
iStock

One of the most historic cities in the U.S., New Orleans dazzles with its ornate cathedrals, lush gardens, and neighborhoods that seem to melt into one another—so much so that it can be hard to know where exactly you are. But whether you find yourself in the Gentilly or the French Quarter, one thing’s for sure: The area’s bound to have a rich, compelling story to tell.

1. BYWATER

Known for its colorful Spanish and French architecture, Bywater encompasses—but is not limited to—much of the Bywater Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area has gone through a few different nicknames—it was first Faubourg Washington (faubourg being an old French term meaning something like suburb) and later Little Saxony, for its sizable population of German immigrants. But in the 1940s, when the telephone company gave each area a unique code name for the rotary phone dial (to help make phone numbers easier to remember), they went with BYwater for this neighborhood, due to its close proximity to the Mississippi River. Later, the code was changed to WHitehall, but it was too late by then: Bywater had caught on for good. Today, it’s also part of what’s affectionately known as “the Sliver by the River,” referring to the area along the water that saw no flooding during Hurricane Katrina, thanks to its slightly higher elevation compared to the rest of New Orleans.

2. PIGEON TOWN

Located in the 17th Ward, Pigeon Town is a working-class nabe known for its concentration of musicians and artists. It’s also sometimes called Pension Town, usually by newcomers to the area, and there’s been great debate over which name came first and is therefore correct. In 2015, The Times-Picayune tried to get to the root of the matter, finding local histories explaining the origins of both names. They found that Pension Town may date to late 19th-century wars and returning soldiers buying land with their army pensions, while Pigeon Town could be a reference to immigrants who once populated the area and spoke in “pidgin” English. Meanwhile, the city officially calls the region Leonidas, for the street running through its center, and it’s also called West Carrollton—as it once comprised about half of the town of Carrollton before it was incorporated into New Orleans. Pigeon Town or Pension Town are still the most common names you’ll heard these days, though, and locals often sidestep the whole issue by just calling it “P-Town.”

3. VIEUX CARRÉ

The balconies of the French Quarter decked out for Mardi Gras
iStock

The oldest part of the city, Vieux Carré is perhaps better known as the French Quarter, and it literally translates to “old square” in French. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this was the site of the original central plaza built by the French settlers in the early 1700s. Most of the neighborhood’s current buildings, however, were constructed by the Spanish during their rule of New Orleans in the later 1700s—and this is partially because the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 wiped out most of the French buildings. Buildings in the Vieux Carré are particularly known for the lacy, elaborate ironwork found on their signature “galleries” (a wider version of a balcony, supported by columns). The Vieux Carré is also the name of a classic cocktail from the 1930s—rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and two kinds of bitters—which was coined in the area’s own Hotel Monteleone.

4. LITTLE WOODS

This one isn’t too strange if you look at its original name, Petit Bois: It’s a direct translation of Little Woods. What’s perhaps more of a mystery is the fact that there were no forests growing in this area when it was first developed by the French. The "Little Woods" they were referring to was, in fact, the swamp vegetation on Lake Pontchartrain, which the neighborhood faces. Close enough.

5. ST. ROCH

The entrance to St. Roch cemetery
Bess Lovejoy

A subdivision of Bywater, St. Roch was known as Faubourg Franklin for its first century or so. But in the mid-19th century, a yellow fever epidemic hit the city of New Orleans, whereupon German priest Peter Leonard Thevis vowed to St. Roch, the patron saint of good health, to build a chapel in the area dedicated to him if no one in the parish died of the disease. The saint apparently provided, because Thevis built the chapel, along with a shrine and cemetery, both of which shortly became New Orleans landmarks. The neighborhood has been called St. Roch ever since.

6. TREMÉ

Although Claude Tremé only owned land in the area for a short time—and his wife was actually the one who inherited most of it—he’s somehow managed to be the lasting namesake of a neighborhood that has really gone through some nicknames. It was first called Place de Nègres, after the main plaza where slaves would gather to dance and play music. This name—both the plaza and the neighborhood—was later updated to Congo Square. In the late 19th century, the city of New Orleans renamed it Beauregard Square, after Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, but people ignored that and kept calling it Congo Square. Then the area was called Back of Town for many years, for its location away from both Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi and at the “back” of the French Quarter. In the ’70s, the city created Louis Armstrong Park and christened an open space within it “Congo Square,” in a callback to the area’s history. Today, its official name is actually Tremé-Lafitte, since it’s incorporated the Lafitte Projects. According to “The King of Tremé,” drummer Shannon Powell, the name “Tremé” has only been in use to refer to this area as of the 21st century. “We always called this neighborhood part of the 6th Ward. Local people called it that. No one local called the Tremé Tremé.”

7. ALGIERS

There are two main theories behind the name of this neighborhood that’s also known as the 15th Ward. One is that its location was so far-flung that the French settlers compared the distance between it and the rest of the city to the distance between France and Algeria. The other is that a soldier who had fought in Algeria said that the neighborhood looked similar to the north African landscape he’d recently returned from when viewed from a ship. Neither of these tales have been proven, however.

8. GENTILLY

Gentilly is a corruption of the word chantilly, but it’s not the lace that this neighborhood is named for. Instead, it’s the town of Chantilly, located just outside of Paris, for which the lace is also named—and more specifically, it was the town's grand Château de Chantilly that the French settlers had in mind when they developed this area just outside of New Orleans. It’s said that the G was swapped in because “French tongues have a hard time with something starting with ‘Ch.’”

9. METAIRIE

A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
iStock

Although it abuts the city limits to the west and is technically not a part of New Orleans, Metairie isn’t a separate city either, only an unincorporated “census-designated place,” so we’re counting it. The community got its name from four French brothers, the Chauvins, who owned thousands of acres in Jefferson Parish in the 1720s, which they split up to employ sharecroppers who paid their rent in produce. The French word for such a tenant farm is—voilà—métairie.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Neighborhoods
How Baltimore's Neighborhoods Got Their Names
Original image
iStock

Baltimore gets a bad rap. Yes, like most major cities, it has its problems with crime, but it’s also got a dazzling waterfront, a thriving arts and music scene, almost three centuries of history, and literally hundreds of different neighborhoods. Some of the earliest National Register Historic Districts are found in Baltimore, and close to a third of the city’s buildings are designated as historic in the register—at 65,000, they’ve got more than any other American city. With so much history to go around in Charm City, there are, naturally, some interesting stories behind the names of these districts. Here are a few.

1. PIGTOWN

The area of Baltimore now called Pigtown was originally part of a 2368-acre plantation called Mount Clare. Interestingly, one of Maryland’s first iron foundries was built in this area in the mid-18th century. It housed the largest furnace used for pig iron (a crude iron product used to produce steel or wrought iron) in the colonies before the American Revolution, but that’s just a coincidence. The area is actually called Pigtown because pigs were offloaded here and herded to nearby slaughterhouses, so pigs roaming the streets were a common sight. That said, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, there was an effort to restyle the neighborhood as Washington Village, but it wasn’t really successful; today, the name Pigtown is a source of pride.

2. OAKENSHAWE

This tony residential area, known for its charming Georgian revival architecture and its status on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally planned as a “streetcar suburb” when it was built between 1916 and 1925, and was touted for its ease of access to downtown Baltimore via the St. Paul Streetcar. The area is named after shipping magnate James Wilson’s home, the 350-acre Okenshawe Estate, built in the early 19th century. Even after the estate was torn down, the area where it stood was generally known as “Oakenshaw” until about 1910, when cartographers started adding an extra e on city maps. The spelling discrepancy is preserved today in the name of Oakenshaw Place, a street within the neighborhood, whose spelling lie somewhere in the middle of the community and the historical estate—with two as but still missing the final e.

3. OLD GOUCHER

After many years of stagnation, Old Goucher is currently known for its spate of new development, with many Victorian-era buildings restored and several parks and green spaces reclaimed in the last several years. But it was originally known for Goucher College, which was established in this neighborhood in 1885, before moving to suburban Towson, Maryland, in the 1950s. The neighborhood still bears the school’s name—perhaps with the word “Old” attached to denote the fact that Goucher isn’t here anymore. Goucher College itself was named after co-founder John Goucher, a Methodist pastor, and his wife Mary, who sought to create a Methodist-sponsored college for female students; the name was changed in 1910 from Women’s College of Baltimore City.

4. THE MIDDLE EAST

In the late ’70s, the residents of this decaying section of East Baltimore were seeking federal grant funds to repair its deteriorating buildings, and a group was created to oversee the $800,000 they received. The neighborhood didn’t really have a name, however, and so they weren’t sure what to name the organization either. Fortunately, Lucille Gorham, the group’s director, came up with a solution at the 1978 grant hearing: “We have the Northeast Community Organization on one side and the Southeast on the other. So, tell them you're from the Middle East Community Organization, because you're right in the middle of everything.” Times have changed, however, and because real estate companies find it’s difficult to sell houses in an area named after a geographical region strongly associated with military conflict, there’s been a push to rebrand the region as “Eager Park,” after a public space that opened in May 2017. (It’s not really catching on so far.) Also, because a good portion of the HBO series The Wire was filmed here, it’s also sometimes referred to as “Wire Park.”

5. WAVERLY (AND BETTER WAVERLY)

Both the neighborhood of Waverly and adjacent Better Waverly (better meaning larger , i.e., “greater Waverly”) are christened after Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Waverley [sic]. Waverly began in the 1840s as an independent village of wealthy merchants that was called Huntingdon, but when it became clear that there were other local Huntingdons, literature fans in the town opted to change the name in order to get themselves a post office. Despite the book being set in the Jacobite, not Victorian, era, the borders of Better Waverly are roughly the same as the original Victorian-era village from the mid-1800s. Although brick row houses—which are frequently seen around Baltimore—were later added, a large part of Waverly still comprises quaint wooden Victorian-era homes.

6. DICKEYVILLE

Found on the westernmost edge of Baltimore, Dickeyville was first known as Franklin, for the Franklin paper mill built there in 1808. About 20 years later, three brothers named Wethered were running a wool mill in the area, and they later built a lumber mill, school, and church. The town’s name then changed to Wetheredville, until the town was sold to Irish emigrant William J. Dickey. After William J. Dickey died, his son, William A. Dickey, became the president of the company, and the town was renamed Dickeyville—intending to honor his father, but since their names were almost identical, he basically named the town after himself, too.

7. OVERLEA

Hidden in the northeast corner of the city limits, Overlea was established in the late 1800s as Lange’s Farm, named after a farm in the area. As in many other communities, the streets were named after trees—Cedar, Hickory, Spruce, Willow, and so on—and the community borders ended up being the tree-themed streets. The area was known for its views, as it's situated above rolling meadows, and as such, the neighborhood’s name was changed to Overlea sometime around the turn of the century—with Overlea meaning “over the meadow.” The community was partially annexed by the City of Baltimore in 1919.

8. RIDGELY’S DELIGHT

Located just outside Baltimore’s downtown, adjacent to Camden Yards, this rowhouse-heavy neighborhood has been a diverse melting pot for centuries. Part of the land, originally known as Howard's Timber Neck because it was owned by Captain John Howard, was transferred to Colonel Charles “the Merchant” Ridgely upon his marriage to Howard’s daughter, Rachel. It was then combined with another of Ridgely’s properties, called Brotherly Love, then resurveyed and called Ridgely's Delight, in reference to another of its owner’s flamboyantly named properties: a plantation named Ridgely’s Whim. (He also owned two estates called Claret and White Wine.) A former thoroughfare belonging to the Susquehannock tribe and later the main highway between Washington and Philadelphia in the late 1700s and early 1800s passes through the neighborhood—it’s now known as Washington Boulevard.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Neighborhoods
How Austin's Neighborhoods Got Their Names
Original image
iStock

When Austin was chosen as the capital of Texas, it wasn’t called Austin at all—it was a small village called Waterloo until its name was changed to honor Stephen F. Austin, the colonist known as the “Father of Texas,” in 1839. Many of its neighborhoods also have colorful histories. Here’s how seven of them got their names.

1. ZILKER

You can thank Andrew Jackson Zilker, a bootstrapping Texas politician and philanthropist, for the name of this south central Austin neighborhood. Zilker was the ice king of Austin, making his fortune with the chilly stuff before beginning to buy up land around the area. In 1917, he sold a 350-acre tract of land to the city of Austin and gave the proceeds to the Austin public schools. Now the park—and the neighborhood that adjoins it—is named in his honor.

2. JUDGES HILL

A photograph of The Mansion at Judge's Hill
The Mansion at Judge's Hill in 2013

Now a residential neighborhood in the heart of Austin, Judges Hill has been associated with the judiciary since before the city had its current name—and before Texas was part of the United States. One early resident was Thomas Jefferson Chambers, an American speculator and attorney who bought much of his land in shady deals, then became a naturalized Mexican citizen with the intention of practicing law—the only foreigner to be granted a law license. He was later named chief justice of the newly formed Texas Supreme Court, but never presided over a case. Nevertheless, for his service he was given land in the Austin area. After the annexation of Texas, Elijah Sterling Clark Robertson—also a judge—bought property there, and other judges and attorneys followed. Voila: Judges Hill.

3. BREMOND BLOCK

Speaking of Victorian-era luxury, the Bremond Block Historic District provides a rare glimpse of what Austin looked like back in the day. The neighborhood was named after the Bremond family, merchants and bankers who constructed or modified fancy houses there beginning in the 1870s. Today, the Bremonds are known mainly for the block they created—a magnet for wealthy Austinites and family members that’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. CLARKSVILLE

An arial photo of the Clarksville neighborhood in Austin, Texas and beyond
Matthew Rutledge, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Unlike the Bremond Block, Clarksville was not known for its wealth. The land was granted and sold to the former slaves of Texas's own governor, Elisha M. Pease, in 1865. Charles Clark, a freed slave, also bought some of the land that's now Clarksville from another former Confederate officer, Nathan G. Shelley, and it became one of the four freedmen’s towns in Austin. Most of the neighborhood’s small, wood-framed houses are now gone, and as Kristie Cantou of Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects writes, “most African-American residents have been driven out of the neighborhood by decades of land speculation, gentrification, construction of Mopac [the Missouri Pacific Railroad] and rising property taxes.”

5. JOLLYVILLE

You might think things are pretty jovial in Jollyville, but stop right there: The north Austin neighborhood got its name from a person, not a state of mind. Jollyville was named after John G. Jolly, a blacksmith who lived in the once-tiny town that is now a neighborhood in north Austin.

6. MOORE’S CROSSING

A photo of the Old Moore's Crossing Bridge in Austin, Texas
The Old Moore's Crossing Bridge
Dave Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Like many Austin neighborhoods, this historic district owes its name to one of the area’s many creeks. The airport area got its name from a man named John B. Moore’s store that, you guessed it, was near a creek crossing. In this case the creek was Onion Creek, which also lent its name to a ritzy country club neighborhood south of downtown. Onion Creek, it’s safe to assume, got its name from onions, though it’s impossible to track the name’s origin.

7. SWEDE HILL

When it comes to obvious names, Swede or Swedish Hill may have Onion Creek beat. It was settled by Swedish people in the 1870s. At the time, there were more Swedish people in Texas than in any other Southern state, perhaps because Swedish immigrants weren't intimidated by the harsh, arid climate. Many Texas Swedes hailed from the exact same county in Sweden, and in Austin the community flocked to a place they called Svenska Kullen, or Swedish Hill. There are other reminders of Sweden in Austin, like the Govalle neighborhood, which is named after a ranch that immigrant Swen Magnus Swenson named “Ga Valla,” or “good pastures.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios