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Wikimedia Commons

How Boston's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Boston is a city known for many things —America’s best fast-food coffee joints (writer’s opinion), superior chowder (accepted fact) and actors incapable of capturing the local dialect. Another important facet is Boston’s connection to history as one of America’s earliest settlements, and how that is reflected in its neighborhood and town names.

What follows is an extensive, albeit not 100% exhaustive list. Unlike some other American cities, Boston is comprised less of neighborhoods than it is made up of towns, most of which take their earliest roots from the arrival of a group of explorers around 1630. If you’re upset about an omission, we ask that you respond as any proud Bostonian would — with a measured, reasonable reply in the comments section, sans insult or foul language.

Allston

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A railroad depot constructed in 1867 — now the Regina Pizzeria near the intersection of Harvard Ave and Cambridge Street — split Allston and Brighton into two sections. Prior to the split, the area was known just as Brighton. After the split, the post office began referring to the area east of the station as Allston, named for Cambridgeport’s Washington Allston, a painter known especially for his work, “Fields West of Boston.” Brighton-Allston historian William Marchione claims Allston’s is the only artist name given to a community in the United States. The area continues to be a popular spot for artists and those who just enjoy a good PBR — mostly the latter, in this author’s experience.

Arlington

Bill Damon

Arlington was originally settled in 1635 and went by the name Menotomy, an Algonquin term for “swift, running water”  (although it’s worth noting some would argue the claim). The name was changed to Arlington in 1867 after Arlington National Cemetery.

Braintree

maps.bpl.org

The Braintree area was originally named Mount Wollaston after Captain Richard Wollaston, who first colonized the area in 1625. In 1640, the area was incorporated as the town of Braintree, named after the English town of the same name.

Belmont

John Phelan

Belmont was founded in 1859 by former citizens of Watertown, Waltham, and Arlington, and was named after the “Bellmont” estate of John Perkins Cushing, who was a leading advocate and financial backer of Belmont’s bid for foundation.

Brighton

BCreservoir2

When Boston first began blossoming as a city in the mid-to-late 1600s, Allston and Brighton were grouped into what was known as “Little Cambridge.” The area was mainly a prosperous farming community prior to the Revolutionary War, but during the war it housed a cattle market that was key to the Continental Army. After the war, Cambridge politicians boiled Little Cambridge’s revolutionary fever by governing from all the way across the Charles River, and so Little Cambridge seceded and became its own town, initially known as Brighton. The name itself was lifted from the town by the same name in England, which was initially called Beorhthelmes Tun, or Beorhthelm’s Farmstead.

Back Bay

Jeffrey Zeldman

When Boston was first discovered by colonists and established, the area now known as Back Bay was, literally, a bay. In 1814, Massachusetts’ legislature approved construction of a mill dam to connect Boston to Watertown. In 1857, a massive filling project began to make use of Back Bay, but the undertaking wasn’t completed until 1900. Even after being converted from bay to land, the area retained the Back Bay moniker.

Bay Village

Daderot

Bay Village was once an area of mudflats created by Back Bay tides, but that changed in 1825 after the city authorized the construction of a dam. Once the area was properly drained, the land became suitable for the construction of houses. Now one of Boston’s smallest neighborhoods, Bay Village has had a number of different names, including Church Street District, South Cove and Kerry Village, but Bay Village has stuck as an ode to the area’s proximity to Back Bay.

Beacon Hill

Ryan Harvey

One of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, this area originally went by Tri-mount or Tremont because of the three hills than ran through it. A beacon was erected on one of those hills to warn its residents of approaching enemies, and so those in the area began referring to it as Beacon Hill.

Brookline

Payton Chung

What is now the Town of Brookline was once a part of Boston, but it broke away in 1705. It was at that point the town was renamed Brookline, supposedly after a farm once owned by Judge Samuel Sewall, most famous for being a key player in the Salem Witch Trials. The farm earned the name because Smelt Brook ran through it, according to Dean Dudley’s Brookline, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury Directory for 1871.

Cambridge

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Now home to Harvard, Cambridge was originally founded in 1630 under the decidedly unoriginal name of Newtowne. It held that title until 1638, when the name was changed to Cambridge because most of the men on the town’s General Court had attended Cambridge University in England. The hope was to provide a good omen for Harvard, which had been founded in 1636.

Charlestown

Ingfbruno

The area that now houses Charlestown was one of the first established European communities in the U.S. Originally known as Mishawum, Charlestown was “Full of stately timber and hospitable Indians” when first discovered. John Smith was among the men who first explored the area, and when he returned to England with a map, Prince Charles (later King Charles I) renamed the river after himself. The town adopted His Highness's name because of its proximity to the river.

Chelsea

Bill Damon

The Massachusett tribe referred to this area as Winnisimmeti, or “Good spring nearby.” It was renamed Chelsea in the early 1700s after a neighborhood in London.

Chestnut Hill

David Wilson

Frederick Law Olmstead — famous for helping co-design Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City — was the chief architect behind the area surrounding the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The area received its name from a “stand of chestnut trees stretched from Dunster Street to Reservoir Lane.”

Chinatown

Soe Lin

Established on top of a landfill, Boston’s Chinatown was initially populated by Syrian, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants. The first Chinese in the area were laborers brought in to end a strike against the Sampson Shoe Factory, and throughout the 1880s and 1890s, more Chinese laborers came to the city to aid construction.

Dorchester

Marcbela

Dorchester was one of the first areas settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, taking its name from the English town with the same name.

Everett

Wikimedia Commons

Edward Everett was a Harvard-educated Dorchester native who is perhaps best remembered as the man who delivered the two-hour main address at the dedication of the cemetery in Gettysburg. The town of Everett was named in his honor.

Fenway-Kenmore

Rich Bowen

The Fenway portion of the name comes from the road that ran along the Back Bay Fens, a park established in 1879 at the urging of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted named it the Fens after the British term for a low, marshy area. The Kenmore portion comes from Kenmore Square, which was named for the Kenmore Station subway stop (at the intersection of Kenmore Street and Commonwealth Ave.).

Hyde Park

James L Woodward

Local minister Henry Lyman suggested the name Hyde Park after the section of London.

Jamaica Plain

Sarah Nichols

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society puts forward a few possible explanations for the name. One theory suggests Jamaica Plain comes from the Caribbean island discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, and they adopted the name either because early habitants made their money off rum or because the area originally housed Native Americans who were fond of rum once it was introduced. Another theory has the area adopting the name from a Native American woman named Jamaco.

Lexington

Daderot

There’s some disagreement over the namesake of this town, which was the site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War. Some put forward that Lexington was named after the English town of Laxton, which may have derived from the Anglo-Saxon Leaxingtūn, or “farmstead or estate of the people of a man called Leaxa.” Others believe the town was named for Lord Lexington.

Malden

John Phelan

Malden was originally part of Charlestown but it was incorporated fairly early, in 1649. Malden’s namesake is something of a mystery, but the most logical ties are to a small parish in Surrey, England, known as "Maiden."

Mattapan

Adam E. Moreira 

In 1617, an epidemic killed a number Native Americans in the area, and so the survivors dubbed it Mattapanock, or “evil spread about the place.” The name was shortened to Mattapan and eventually chosen as an English name for the location, likely without knowledge of its significance.

Medford

John Phelan

While other towns like Cambridge and Watertown were established early on, Medford was originally the property of Matthew Cradock, who lived in London but owned the land and turned a profit from farming, fishing, and shipbuilding in the area. His workers lived in a great house in what is now Medford Square, and this house was referred to as the Meadford House for its location near a ford at which the Mystic River could be crossed. After Cradock died, his heirs slowly lost interest in managing the property from abroad, and the land purchased in the area adopted the Meadford — or Medford — moniker.

Melrose

Grk1011

Melrose went by a few different names, including Ponde Field, Mystic Side, and North Malden. Up until the mid 1800s, Melrose was a sparse farming area considered a part of Malden. In 1845, B&M built three train stops (Wyoming, Cedar Park, and Melrose Highlands) in the area, and Boston workers began moving there and commuting to work. The population boomed, and Melrose became its own town in 1850, taking its name from its topographical resemblance to Melrose, Scotland.

Milton

Marcbela

Milton was originally part of the Dorchester settlement, and the area was referred to as “Unquety,” a Neponset term for “Lower Falls.” Milton split from Dorchester in 1662, taking its name in honor of Milton Abbas, a small village in Dorset, England.

Mission Hill

Snutter

Mission Hill is located on Parker Hill, “A rocky drumlin left behind by a prehistoric glacier.” The Mission half of the name was adopted after the construction of the Mission Church complex near the end of the 19th century.

Newton

clry2

This one’s pretty easy. The area — one of the first settled around Boston — originally went by Newtown because, well, it was all quite new. Newton was originally considered part of Cambridge but split in 1691 and was officially bestowed the Newton name.

North End

Ingfbruno

When the Boston area was first settled, the North End went by the word-ier “Island of North Boston.” The area included a few estates and a large, wooden windmill, but not much else. In the 1700s, cobblestone streets were laid and more people began moving there, and the name was shortened to the more manageable “North End.”

Quincy

The Quincy area was first settled in 1625 but was originally considered a part of neighboring Braintree. That changed in 1792, when Quincy split to become its own town named after Col. John Quincy, grandfather of Abigail Adams.

Revere

Magic Piano

One would suspect Revere got its name from noted night rider Paul Revere. One would be correct.

Roslindale

Andrew Watson

Originally a part of Roxbury, Roslindale split into its own town in 1870. Many had ideas about what to name the area, but it adopted the Roslindale moniker at the behest of resident John Pierce. Pierce stood at a town meeting and spoke of how the West Roxbury area reminded him of historic Roslyn, Scotland, and added that -dale would make a nice addition because of West Roxbury’s surrounding hills.

Roxbury

City of Boston Archives

A small community of settlers decided to forego Boston as a home and trekked north over the Boston Neck to settle in the Roxbury area in 1630. The area they chose was littered with rocks, and the settlers originally dubbed it “Rocksbury.”

Salem

Rusty Clark

On its official town website, Salem refers to itself as the “City of Peace,” named most likely for the biblical town of Shalem, now Jerusalem. Salem has occasionally lived up to its name sans notable, lung-crushing exceptions.

Saugus

Anthony

The town of Saugus was first settled in 1629 and boasts a long Native American history. The name was adopted from the term “Saugus,” used by local tribes as a word for “great” or “extended.”

Somerville

Jamie Okeefe

Somerville split from Charlestown in 1842. In “Haskell’s Historical Guide Book of Somerville, Massachusetts,” Albert L. Haskell writes that the town originally was going to go by the name Walford after its first settler, Thomas Walford. However, a committee put together to choose a name vetoed this, and instead adopted the “Somerville” moniker suggested by committee member Chris Miller, a “purely fanciful name.”

South Boston

Luciof

When the Boston area was first settled in 1630, what is now South Boston was a slim peninsula — so slim, in fact, that at high tide, it became an island. The area was dubbed “Dorchester Neck” by the settlers and referred to as Mattapannock by the natives. It was sparsely populated until 1803, when a group of Bostonians bought up a significant portion of the land. A year later, Boston annexed the area and went to work improving accessibility and drawing up the street grids we know today. As for the name? That's entirely self-evident, what with its location south of Boston’s downtown area.

South End

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The South End was at one point made up of a narrow strip of land, the “Boston Neck,” and was surrounded by tidal marshes. Before the 1840s, the area included a few mansions, but was mostly unpopulated. That changed in the ‘40s, though, when overcrowding around Beacon Hill and downtown led to the filling of those marshes with land pulled from Needham. The area was planned by Charles Bulfinch and in the decades that followed, it became a “fashionable place for well-to-do families to build their homes.”

By the 1870s, though, those families began moving out. The exodus, paired with a string of bank repossessions on less elegant homes built around Columbus Avenue, dropped market values sharply. The South End quickly became a melting pot neighborhood of varying minorities — the influence of which can been seen in its diversity to this day. The name, like South Boston's, is pretty self-explanatory.

Waltham

Twp

Waltham was originally part of the Watertown settlement, established in 1627. The area was referred to as Watertown’s “Middle Precinct,” but became the “West Precinct” in 1712-13. In 1730, the West Precinct voted to become its own town after a dispute with the East Precinct over the location of a school, but the motion failed. Another vote was set and passed in 1738, at which point Waltham was established. The name is a Saxon word meaning “forest home.”

Watertown

IFCAR

Watertown is one of Boston’s oldest settlements. The Native Americans in the area referred to it as "Pigsgusset," but settlers renamed it Watertown because of its proximity to a fresh water river.

Weston

Daderot

Remember when I said Waltham was once “Middle Precinct” but then it became “West Precinct”? Well, that’s because Weston was at one point Watertown’s “West Precinct,” but it was incorporated into its own town in 1712-13.

West End

RawheaD Rex

The West End, like the South End, served as a melting pot neighborhood in the late 1800s, although chiefly for Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants. Also like the South End, the West End has a boring name rooted in its geography.

Winthrop

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John Winthrop was one of the most influential characters in Boston’s early history. He led the first wave of settlers into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and served as its governor for 12 years between 1629 and 1649, when he died. The town of Winthrop, obviously, is named in his honor.

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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
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.

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