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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Nolan Nitschke
A Historic Ghost Town in California Is Up for Sale
Nolan Nitschke
Nolan Nitschke

For just shy of $1 million, a ghost town in California’s majestic Inyo Mountains could be yours. Cerro Gordo, a 19th-century mining town that served as the “silver thread” to Los Angeles, is now up for sale via Bishop Real Estate in Bishop, California.

Located in Owens Valley near the town of Lone Pine, the $925,000 property comes with over 300 acres of land, mineral rights, and no shortage of peace and quiet. There are 22 structures on site, including a historic hotel, bunkhouse, saloon, chapel, and museum—plus all of the artifacts that come with it. 

“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters, and Mother Nature herself,” reads the listing, posted on a website specially created for the property that's aptly named ghosttownforsale.com. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings, and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”

The town of Cerro Gordo has been privately owned for decades, but the family who owns it “felt it was the right time to sell it,” real estate agent Jake Rasmuson tells Mental Floss. No conditions are attached to the purchase of the property, but Rasmuson says “one would hope that some of the history would be maintained and that it would still be open to the public.”

Walking tours of the property can be booked via Cerro Gordo’s website, and those will continue to be offered until the property is sold. The listing was just posted online a week ago, but Rasmuson said the property has already received “quite a bit of interest,” mostly from history lovers who have visited the site before.

Cerro Gordo, meaning “Fat Hill,” received its name from Mexican miners who combed through the area in search of silver before it became a commercial mine, according to the town's website. In 1865, a prospector named Pablo Flores started a mining operation at the nearby Buena Vista Peak. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and within two years prospectors were flocking to Cerro Gordo.

A businessman named Mortimer Belshaw is the man who really put the town on the map, though. In 1868, he brought the first batch of silver to Los Angeles and later built a toll road to supply the burgeoning industry. Within a year, the mine was the largest producer of silver and lead in California. 

“If you look at the history of Cerro Gordo, it was really instrumental in the expansion of Los Angeles,” Rasmuson says. One of structures on the Cerro Gordo property—the Belshaw bunkhouse—still carries on his legacy.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the mine was finally abandoned after being hit by a fire and falling silver prices. (However, mining operations were revived in 1905 and continued for a couple of decades.) 

The town may be peaceful now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1860s and ’70s, the town saw a murder per week, according to a Los Angeles Times article from 2006 about the restoration of the property. The property’s late owner, Michael Patterson, told the newspaper that the only sound for miles around “is the whistle of the wind blowing through all the bullet holes in every building up here."

For those who aren't afraid of ghosts, this little slice of Wild West paradise might just be the perfect place to live. Keep scrolling to see more photos and a video of the property.

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

A former church
Nolan Nitschke

Inside the saloon
Nolan Nitschke
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iStock
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
iStock
iStock

Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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