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How Baltimore's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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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.

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Neighborhoods
How 10 Edinburgh Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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There’s evidence of people living in the Edinburgh area for 10,000 years, beginning with Mesolithic camps from around 8500 BCE. Since then, the area of Scotland’s modern capital has been ruled by the Romans, Celtic tribes, and, frequently, the British Empire. Yet throughout the centuries, Edinburgh has managed to maintain its own distinct personality, with a hodgepodge of diverse little neighborhoods. Here, we’ll spotlight a handful of them and tell the stories of how their names came to be.

1. INCH PARK/THE INCH

Located in the southern part of the city, Inch Park is the area that surrounds Inch House. The name has nothing to do with the unit of measurement—it stems from the Gaelic word innis, which originally meant island, the theory being that the area was a dry, raised “island” within a damp, forested area. According to the Edinburgh City Council, in 1617 an L-shaped tower was built on the property; the building was added to many, many times over the years and changed hands multiple times. It was last sold to the city of Edinburgh in 1946, which turned it into a primary school and later a community center, although it’s no longer used for either today. The neighborhood is also known as “The King’s Inch” or usually just “The Inch.”

2. BONNINGTON

First known as Bonnytoun, this milling village situated on the Water of Leith river helped comprise the Barony of Broughton, as documented in King David’s confirmation charter of the Holyrood Abbey in 1143—along with the region that’s now known as Broughton. The village’s name had become Bonnington by the late 18th century. Bonnytoun may mean “bonny town,” with the Scottish word bonny meaning good or attractive. This word also evolved into the Scottish surnames Bonynton and Boynton.

3. PRINCES STREET

Princes Street pictured from Calton Hill in the center of Edinburgh, Scotland
Oli Scarff, AFP/Getty Images

Princes Street is the main drag in Edinburgh’s New Town, where both locals and tourists go in search of name-brand shopping and swanky nightlife, and the road loans its name to the surrounding area. With almost no buildings on its south border, the area offers spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle and the medieval Old Town surrounding it; Princes Street Gardens and its fabulous floral clock are a centerpiece of the city. The street itself was first known as St. Giles Street, for the town’s patron saint, who has a spectacular cathedral named for him just a few blocks away. But King George III was turned off by the aesthetic of St. Giles, who was also the patron saint of lepers, and rechristened the thoroughfare after not just one but two of his sons, Prince George (later King George IV) and Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. Hence, it’s not "Prince Street,” and neither is it Prince’s Street, but Princes Street—plural. (Fun fact: The New Zealand city of Dunedin also has a Princes Street that’s named after Edinburgh’s, as Dunedin itself is named after the city—the Gaelic version of Edinburgh is Dùn Èideann.)

4. COWGATE

Cow sculpture at Cowgate in Edinburgh

Jessica Spengler, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This one seems obvious—it’s a gate for cows, right? Almost. The gritty Cowgate district is in the medieval Old Town, where you’ll find one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh, the subtle Magdalen Chapel from 1544, with its pre-Reformation stained glass windows. The Cowgate itself is the low street to the parallel Royal Mile, which is the high street, and it’s got a reputation for being dark and gloomy. That's nothing new: Back in the 1400s, the street was used to herd cattle and other livestock to the nearby Grassmarket, and it was an overcrowded slum by the mid-18th century. But it wasn’t a gate, and it never had one. The word gate is Scots for “way” or “road,” which it shares with several Germanic languages—possibly influenced by Scotland’s close proximity to Scandinavia and an early Viking presence in the city.

5. PORTOBELLO

Kids pass away the time during the summer school holidays on the beach at Portobello on July 29, 2004 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Chris Furlong, Getty Images

No, it's not connected to the mushroom (at least not directly). Today it’s a cute seaside community on the Firth of Forth, east of the city, but in the 13th century Portobello was a stretch of moorland called Figgate Muir (or moor), with figgate thought to be a Saxon word for “cow’s ditch” or “cow’s road.” It became a haven for smugglers and sailors by the early 1700s, and in 1742, a Scottish seaman named George Hamilton built himself a cottage there. Hamilton had recently served during the British capture of Porto Bello, Panama, in 1739, and he borrowed the exotic-sounding name for his little house: porto meaning harbor or port, and bello meaning beautiful. Portbello Hut stood until 1851, and as a village built up around it—thanks to a deposit of clay leading to a boom in earthenware production—the name stuck.

6. DUDDINGSTON

On the southeastern slope of Edinburgh’s imposing extinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat, the neighborhood of Duddingston is best known for lovely Duddingston Kirk (kirk being Scots for church), a prime example of Scoto-Norman architecture dating back to the 12th century. There’s a reason it was built in the Norman style: It was commissioned by Dodin, a Norman knight who received a large amount of property from King David I. He named the surrounding area in his own honor and began calling himself “Dodin de Dodinestun,” then named the church after the region. A town of the same name sprang up around the church, and the nearby loch (lake) was given the name too. The word later polymorphed into Doudinstoun, in the Scots spelling, and finally into Duddingston, in the English spelling. The town has long been a favorite hangout of Edinburgh’s artists and writers, such as novelist Sir Walter Scott, and the theme continues: The kirk's gardens are used today as a venue during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival.

7. DALRY

Busy, urban Dalry is right in the middle of the action, between Haymarket and Gorgie in the center of Edinburgh. Its main street, Dalry Road, is packed with shops and restaurants, and is the beginning of the A70 road, but it wasn’t always so urban: The neighborhood originally lay outside of the walls of the Old Town, as a part of the agricultural estate of Dalry House. As for the word Dalry, the jury’s out on its meaning: It could be from dail rig, which is Scottish Gaelic for the "place of the fields (or dales)," or dail ruigh, meaning "king's field." Dail fhraoich, meaning "heathery field," is a possible etymology as well.

8. KINGSKNOWE

Technically an Edinburgh suburb, Kingsknowe is mostly known for its large golf course, appropriately named Kingsknowe Golf Course. The town’s name has nothing to do with any smartypants Scottish monarchs: Knowe is just another word for knoll, a small rounded hill, one that’s often grassy and is sometimes associated with faeries.

9. STOCKBRIDGE

Stockbridge Market
gnomonic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With its twee cafés and boutiques, the very Instagrammable neighborhood of Stockbridge seems to explain itself: It does have a notable bridge, built in 1801, which is indeed called Stock Bridge. It’s a stone bridge, though, and the name Stockbridge refers not to livestock but to the Scots word stock, meaning timber. It’s not clear what happened to the wooden bridge, but you can recognize the etymology in the English word stocks, as in the wooden frame used to lock criminals’ hands and feet and display them publicly.

10. DEAN VILLAGE

Dean Village is known as a tranquil oasis in the center of the city, famous for its picturesque cobblestone lanes, colorful gardens, and quaint fairy-tale architecture, and it has a history reaching back at least 800 years. It was first a mill town called Water of Leith Village, after the Water of Leith river that snakes through the area, with about a dozen working mills simultaneously in operation at one point. But in his 12th century Holyrood Abbey charter, King David I referred to the village as Dene, which ultimately became Dean Village. The name change doesn't have anything to do with a university or a guy named Dean; in Scots, a dene is a ravine or a valley. The English equivalent of this word is den, which still crops up today in place names such as in Camden or Hampden.

BONUS: TREVERLEN

Right next door to Duddingston is—or shortly will be—the fresh new district of Treverlen, a developing area of Edinburgh that shares its name with the still-in-the-works Treverlen Park, which kicked off in 2016. The name of the new park was carefully chosen by the Duddingston and Craigentinny Neighbourhood Partnership after consulting the public. They picked an old name for a medieval settlement that was included in Dodin of Dodinestun’s massive land grant from King David: Treverlen or Traverlin, dating back to at least the 11th century, No one’s quite sure what this word means, but it was likely based on a Celtic Brythionic tongue, since the village of Treverlen predated the use of Gaelic or Saxon languages in greater Edinburgh. Based on this clue, there are a few theories: It could be from tref + gwr + lên, meaning “place of the learned man” or possibly tref + y + glyn, meaning “place of the learned women.” It might also be from tre + war + lyn, meaning “the farm at or on the loch,” or similarly traefor llyn, meaning “settlement by the lake (or loch) of reeds (or rushes).” Trevelen Park is set to be completed in 2019.

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Neighborhoods
How 25 London Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Ancient Anglo-Saxon chiefs, old-school religious rites, and lots of animals—London’s place names reflect the city’s bygone roots. Here are the stories behind 25 of the foggy capital’s most fascinating neighborhood names.

1. BARKING AND DAGENHAM

Move along—no dogs here. This borough got the canine-sounding half of its name from the area’s original moniker, Berecingas. The Anglo-Saxon word, which dates from at least 695 CE, is thought to mean “the territory of the birch-tree people,” or possibly a reference to someone named Bereca. Meanwhile, Dagenham is thought to be in reference to a land owner named Dæcca, likely also from the 7th century.

2. BELGRAVIA

Robert Grosvenor statue in Westminster, London
Robert Grosvenor statue in Westminster, London

Belgravia sounds kind of Continental, but its origin is 100 percent English. The suburb gets its name from the Grosvenor family, who developed the area in the 1820s. Alongside the title of Earl Grosvenor (and later the Marquess of Westminster, and still later Duke of Westminster), the family held the title of Viscount Belgrave, the name of part of their estate in Cheshire. Belgrave is thought to either mean “firewood” or “beautiful wood,” and the Grosvenor family still owns a large swath of the area.

3. BRENT

Brent is a Celtic word that means “hill” or “high place,” or in this context probably “holy one,” and is the name of a small river that runs through the area and may have once been worshipped. The borough itself was named in the 1960s when two former boroughs, Wembley and Willesden, merged.

4. CAMDEN TOWN

Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, owned the land that now forms Camden Town in the 18th century. His title was in reference to Camden Place, which itself was named after William Camden, a famous antiquarian. Fun fact: Unlike some of his fellow Lords, Camden didn’t support the Stamp Act, the 1765 law that forced American colonists to pay heavy taxes on papers and pamphlets to subsidize British revenue. His first speech in the House of Lords was a fiery rebuttal of the law—and a South Carolina town was named after him in celebration of his support of colonial rights.

5. CHALK FARM

Chalk Farm used to be part of a manor called Chalcot, from which it gets its name. Ironically, there doesn’t seem to have been any chalk mining in the area—the ground surface is clay.

6. CLERKENWELL

If the name sounds like “Clerk’s well,” it’s for a reason. Clerk is an ancient term for an educated person or clergyman, and the priests of London are thought to have performed holy rites and religious plays annually at a spring or well in the area. Builders found the actual well in 1924.

7. CROYDON

Saffron crocuses growing

Croydon’s not-so-pretty name derives from a beautiful sight: flowers. Crocus sativus, the flowers from which saffron is gathered, are thought to have grown in the area long ago. The Anglo-Saxons combined their word for crocus, croh, with the word for valley, denu, and later the nickname was shortened.

8. EALING

Ealing’s name has a long history and is thought to have derived from an Anglo-Saxon settler named Gilla. His descendants were the Gillingas, and that name eventually morphed into Yealing, Zelling and Eling, before becoming Ealing in the 19th century.

9. GOLDERS GREEN

A family named Godyer or Godyere likely gave Golders Green its alliterative name. Or maybe it was the Groles or Godders, both of whose names were associated with the neighborhood in the 1700s.

10. GREENWICH

Place names that end in -wich often denote a trading settlement or a bay/harbor, and Greenwich—which lies on the River Thames—was apparently green at one point. Think of it as the Green Bay of London.

11. HARINGEY

This London borough is relatively new—it was created in 1965 when London authorities merged Tottenham, Wood Green, and Hornsey into a single borough. But it takes its name from a much older word: Haringay, an Anglo-Saxon term for a rocky place, but possibly related to a Saxon chief named Haering. The neighborhood name was once spelled Haringesheye, which some pronounced as Hornsey, which is now a neighborhood within Haringay.

12. ISLE OF DOGS

Baby ducks with their mother
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The Isle of Dogs is really a peninsula according to some, and the dog part may be equally deceptive. According to Londonist’s Laura Reynolds, the neighborhood’s name could come from ducks, docks, dykes, or other D words. Nonetheless, it’s had the name since the 1500s—that’s eons in dog years.

13. ISLINGTON

Islington was once known as Gisla’s Hill, or Gislandune, after the Saxon chief who once owned the place. That eventually turned into Iseldone, and then Islington.

14. KINGSTON UPON THAMES

This borough has one of London’s most straightforward place names. Yes, it’s on the River Thames, and yes, it was once filled with kings. Home to an 838 CE meeting of noblemen and clergy called by Egbert, King of Wessex, it’s been associated with royals for centuries, and supposedly seven Saxon kings were crowned here. The name itself is thought to mean a manor or estate belonging to a king.

15. LAMBETH

This neighborhood might just have the cutest name, and it’s thought to have a fluffy origin. In 1088, the name Lamhytha, or "landing place for lambs,” was recorded for the area.

16. MARYLEBONE

No bones about it—Marylebone’s name comes from a church, St. Mary’s, which had a nearby stream, known as a burna to Anglo-Saxons.

17. MAYFAIR

Nepotism gave this ritzy district its name. In 1663, Charles II gave his buddy the Earl of St. Albans the right to hold a sheep and cattle market in what is now Haymarket. According to the London Encyclopedia, it was so filthy that James II shut it down a few years later, then later gave St. Albans’s heir the right to a new market—and an annual May fair—in what is now Mayfair.

18. NEWHAM

Newham is new indeed: It’s only been a borough since 1965, and since it combined two “Hams” (East Ham and West Ham), the “new” part seemed appropriate. The Old English word ham or hamm meant land that was hemmed in by water, such as the River Thames.

19. NOTTING HILL

Long before it was a rom-com, Notting Hill was, well, a hill. It was likely named after a Kensington manor owned by a baron or barons named Notting, Nutting, or Knolton Barns. Knottyng, from which the name likely derives, is a Middle English term that refers to either a hill or a place owned by someone named Cnotta.

20. PADDINGTON

Paddington wasn’t always a raincoat-clad bear. The area was named after Padda, an Anglo-Saxon landowner. Nobody remembers Padda, but the place that was once his farm is now iconic.

21. RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES

If not for a very rich man, Richmond-upon-Thames might be called something else: Sheen. The Thames-bound town was originally named after a local palace, which was originally called Sheen (meaning bright or shining). In 1501, King Henry VII rebuilt the palace and renamed it Rychemonde, after the town from which he'd gotten his title—the Earl of Richmond—before taking the crown.

22. SHEPHERD’S BUSH

Was Shepherd’s Bush really named after a shrub? Maybe. It’s thought that there could have been a bush or tree where shepherds and their flocks rested on their way to Smithfield Market, or perhaps one on property owned by someone named Shepherd. Either way, people have thought the name was weird for a long time. In 1905, Charles George Harper wrote that “the average inhabitant of Shepherd’s Bush is so used to the daily iteration of the name that his ears are blunted to its strangeness, and it is only the new-comer whose attention is arrested, who ever asks what it means, and when and how it arose.”

23. WALTHAM FOREST

Epping doesn’t sound a lot like Waltham, but it’s the forest that gave the newish borough its name. The ancient wood now known as Epping Forest is London’s biggest open space, and it was once part of the much larger Waltham Forest, which over the years gradually shrank in size.

24. WESTMINSTER

Westminster got its name from the church that is still its most famous resident. An abbey, church, or monastery is also known as a mynster in Old English, and Westminster Abbey was located in the westernmost part of old-school London long ago. Apparently there was once an East Minster, too, but it’s been lost to time.

25. WOOLWICH

Basket of wool on the grass

Woolwich got its name from the even-more-fun to say Uuluuich, an old-fashioned word for a place where wool was traded. The -ich, a suffix that means a landing place, made Woolwich a great place to trade wool, since it’s conveniently located near the Thames.

All photos via iStock except where noted.

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