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
iStock

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.

How 15 Berlin Neighborhoods Got Their Names

iStock
iStock

Germany's capital and largest city, Berlin is a sprawling, hectic metropolis and a historic center of the continent. Its eight centuries of history show up in the names of its various neighborhoods; here, we break down a few.

1. CHARLOTTENBURG

Affluent Charlottenburg reflects its namesake: It was christened for Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, queen consort of Friedrich I of Prussia, and it’s where Charlottenburg Palace, their former home, is located. Friedrich became king in 1701, two years after the palace’s construction was finished. Before that, the area was home to a village called Lietzow, and the palace was originally named Lietzenburg. Its name was changed to Charlottenburg in 1705, when the queen died, and Lietzow was officially incorporated into the settlement in 1720.

2. GRAEFEKIEZ

Located in Kreuzberg (“Cross Hill,” for the iron cross on the Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars that tops the hill), Graefekiez and its main street, Graefestraße, are named in honor of Albrecht von Graefe, a Prussian eye surgeon and early pioneer in the study of ophthalmology. Von Graefe is buried in the Protestant cemetery in the nearby Jerusalem Church, and in 2015 an area school was named after him.

3. NEUKÖLLN

Neukölln started out in 1200 as a village called Rixdorf. It became Neukölln in 1912, and in 1920 was incorporated into Greater Berlin. The name translates to "New Cölln"—a reference to Cölln, an old medieval town that was once located in what is now the nearby Mitte neighborhood. Even more confusingly, Neuköln is the name of both a borough and the smaller neighborhood contained within it.

4. MITTE

Like Neuköln, Mitte is both the name of a borough and a smaller locality within it, and its name isn’t quite as apt as it once was. Mitte translates to “middle” and was once the center of Berlin, before areas around the city were annexed. It’s still considered by many to be the heart of Berlin, though, especially thanks to its location and history—during much of the Cold War, it was surrounded almost entirely by the Berlin Wall and was the location of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin.

5. MOABIT

A closed-up window and picturesque design in Moabit, Berlin
Nicola Holtkamp, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Another neighborhood within the borough of Mitte, Moabit’s name is probably derived from French Huguenot refugees who were living in Prussia during the time of prince-elector of Brandenburg Frederick William circa 1685. Supposedly, they named the area either after the Biblical kingdom of Moab—seemingly because Elimelech, Naomi, and their family sought refuge there during a famine—or the Plains of Moab, where the Israelites fleeing Egypt camped before entering Canaan. (A less popular theory is that it comes from the word Moorjebiet, which means “swamp” in the Berlin dialect—Moabit was originally an island before the swamp surrounding it was filled in by sand—or even a corruption of a French term such as mon habitit—roughly meaning "my settlement.") The area was also once known as Pulverwiesen (“powder point”) when it was used as a parade ground by the military, since it was near several gunpowder factories.

6. WEDDING

Despite its pleasant name, the neighborhood of Wedding is one of the poorest in Berlin, and its origin story has nothing to do with marriage. It’s named for Rudolf de Weddinge, a 12th-century nobleman whose forest farmstead stood on the banks of the Panke River, and caught fire at least twice before being abandoned in the 1700s. In the mid-18th century, the area was built up as a spa and health resort, and it later became a seedy pleasure district, rife with gambling and prostitution. Today, it’s a working-class area known for its urban gardens, bohemian cafes and galleries, and strong community of artists.

7. TIERGARTEN

A statue on a lake in the Berlin Tiergarten
blondetpatrice, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Tiergarten is the name of both a neighborhood and a huge park included in the neighborhood; its name translates literally to “animal garden” in modern German. But tier once referred not to all animals but to game animals, and in this case, to deer specifically. In fact, the Tiergarten was a deer preserve until the 18th century, and a deer is still featured in Tiergarten's coat of arms. The park itself, one of the largest in Germany, doesn’t have a lot of deer in it, but it does contain the Berlin Zoological Garden and Aquarium.

8. PRENZLAUER BERG

Trendy Prenzlauer Berg shares a name with its hill (“Prenzlauer Hill”), a Prenzlauer being a person from the German town of Prenzlau, which is about 60 miles north of Berlin. The town of Prenzlau, in turn, takes its name from the Slavic men’s name Przemysław, itself a medieval version of the Polish name Przemysł, meaning a person who is clever or ingenious. No word on which Przemysław of yore inspired the town’s name; there were several dukes and kings of nearby Poland who bore the name, but the town seems to have existed before any of them did, with the earliest known mention of the village being in 1187.

9. ROTE INSEL

Literally “Red Island,” the roughly triangular slice of land called Rote Insel within Berlin’s Schöneberg locality isn’t anywhere near a lake, river, or ocean. The reason it’s called an island is because it’s entirely isolated by train tracks on all sides, making it accessible only by bridges that pass over the track. The “red” part comes from the area’s strong left-wing/democratic socialist population during the late 19th and early 20th century—their official color was red.

10. POTSDAMER PLATZ

An image from the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz
Baptiste Pons, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Potsdamer Platz refers to Berlin’s important public square of the same name as well as the neighborhood surrounding it, with platz meaning “place” in English—or more accurately “plaza.” Chock full of museums and historical memorials, the five-cornered square is a busy public space and major intersection. It started out as a trading post in the late 1600s, established at the convergence of several old country roads. The word Potsdam, meanwhile, is thought to have been derived from the Old West Slavonic term poztupimi, as it was named in 993 by the 13-year-old Emperor Otto III—it translates roughly to “beneath the oaks.”

11. FRIEDRICHSHAIN

Created in 1920, Friedrichshain gets its name from the nearby Volkspark (People’s Park) Friedrichshain, built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of King Friedrich II’s coronation. (The word hain means grove.) In 1933, when Berlin fell under Nazi rule, the district was renamed Horst-Wessel-Stadt, commemorating Horst Wessel, the 22-year-old Berlin Sturmabteilung (stormtrooper) leader who was hailed as a martyr by propagandist Joseph Goebbels after being killed by members of the Communist Party in 1930. (Stadt means city in German.) The name Friedrichshain was restored after the war ended.

12. BERGMANNKIEZ

Many Berlin districts bear the word kiez in their names—it means neighborhood or community. Bergmannkiez is named for its main thoroughfare, Bergmannstraße, which was named after the wealthy Bergmann family, which owned property in the area. Prior to that, the street was called Weinbergsweg (“Weinberg’s Way”), which still exists elsewhere in the city and is named for the nearby Weinbergspark (which is named for a café of the same name that once operated there).

13. ALT-TREPTOW

The Treptowers in the district of Alt-Treptow, Berlin
Ansgar Koreng, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

This area began life as just Treptow, a village inhabited by Slavic people in the 6th century. Treptow itself is a Germanization of the Polish word Trzebiatów, also the name of a town in West Pomerania, which was once part of Germany but is today part of Poland. It’s a place name possibly derived from the Polish word trzebia, which means "clearing." The word Alt was later added to the village’s name—it just means "old."

14. RIXDORF

Although most of the town of Rixdorf was absorbed by the aforementioned Neukölln neighborhood, part of it remains along the Neukölln border. Rixdorf was originally a tiny historic village called Richardsdorf, or “Richard’s valley,” and the area has been inhabited since at least the mid-1300s, but the modern incarnation dates from 1737. (It’s not clear who the eponymous Richard was.) Rixdorf was a just nickname at first, but later became official. Today, it’s part of Berlin proper and is often known as Böhmisch-Rixdorf, or Bohemian Rixdorf, for the Protestants coming from Bohemia who lived here in the 18th century.

15. NIKOLAIVIERTEL

A view in the neighborhood of Nikolaiviertel, Berlin
Pascal Volk, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In Mitte, the neighborhood of Nikolaiviertel—or Nicholas’ Quarter—gets its name from the St. Nikolai-Kirche, the oldest church in Berlin, parts of which date from between 1220 and 1230. Originally a Roman Catholic church, it became Lutheran in 1539. The church was almost destroyed during World War II, but in the 1980s authorities began reconstruction efforts in the area, meaning many of the area’s quirky historic-looking houses were actually built after the war ended.

The U.S. State With the Most Psychopaths Is …

Anthony Perkins stars in Psycho (1960)
Anthony Perkins stars in Psycho (1960)
Paramount Pictures

Quaint, quiet Connecticut—home of the Frisbee and the first speed-limit law—is also apparently home to the most Norman Bates types. A recent study spotted by Quartz ranked each U.S. state by the number of psychopaths who are estimated to be living there, and the results may surprise you.

Following Connecticut, the top five states by psychopathy are California, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming (New York and Wyoming tied). The least psychopathic state, on the other hand, is wild and wonderful West Virginia.

Psychopathy on its own is not a clinical diagnosis. Rather, it's a subset of antisocial personality disorder, whose symptoms include egocentrism, manipulativeness, impulsivity, lack of remorse, and an inability to form intimate relationships, just to name a few.

The study, posted on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), partly drew data from previous research on the “big five” personality traits—Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience—and their prevalence in each state [PDF]. Ryan Murphy, the study's author, said there's a correlation between these personality traits and some of the traits associated with psychopathy—namely boldness, meanness, and disinhibition.

“Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness,” Murphy told Quartz. In the earlier study of personality scores by state, Connecticut showed high levels of extraversion and comparatively low levels of conscientiousness.

The District of Columbia was also taken into consideration and showed higher levels of psychopathy than any state in the country. However, Murphy said this isn’t a fair representation because D.C. is an urban area and cannot be accurately compared to a larger, more geographically diverse region.

Although D.C. was excluded from the final ranking, Murphy said there might be something to the popular belief that politicians are more likely to be psychopaths: “The presence of psychopaths in [the] District of Columbia is consistent with the conjecture found in [my research] that psychopaths are likely to be effective in the political sphere.”

It must be noted, though, that these findings have only recently been pre-published and are not yet peer-reviewed.

Here’s how the 48 contiguous states (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) ranked for psychopathy:

1. Connecticut
2. California
3. New Jersey
4. & 5. New York / Wyoming (tied)
6. Maine
7. Wisconsin
8. Nevada
9. Illinois
10. Virginia
11. Maryland
12. South Dakota
13. Delaware
14. Massachusetts
15. Arizona
16. Florida
17. Iowa
18. Colorado
19. Texas
20. Ohio
21. Utah
22. Arkansas
23. Idaho
24. North Dakota
25. Michigan
26. Alabama
27. Pennsylvania
28. Rhode Island
29. Louisiana
30. Kansas
31. Georgia
32. Minnesota
33. Missouri
34. Washington
35. Kentucky
36. Nebraska
37. South Carolina
38. New Hampshire
39. Oregon
40. Indiana
41. Mississippi
42. Montana
43. Oklahoma
44. New Mexico
45. North Carolina
46. Tennessee
47. Vermont
48. West Virginia

[h/t Quartz]

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