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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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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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How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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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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