How Houston's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Houston is a city that prides itself on having no official zoning, and Houston neighborhoods have a decidedly freewheelin' feel. Management districts butt up against municipalities and unincorporated areas, which overlap with wards, which are part of super-neighborhoods, which are often referenced by other names.

Looking at the origins of those names gives a glimpse at the movers and shakers (and Quakers) of Houston's past. It's a past populated with farmers, industrialists, ministers, soldiers and philanthropists, not to mention a postmistress, a murderer, and a saloon-owning Prohibitionist.

This list is extensive but incomplete. The origins of some neighborhood names are long forgotten, and with others it's probably safe to assume a developer just mashed a few bucolic words together for marketing purposes. (Here's looking at you, Glenbrook Valley and Woodland Trails.)

I've included some communities outside of Houston proper, because a sprawl city doesn't have borders so much as subtle transitions into ruralness. And we all know everyone in Katy claims Houston anyway.

Marks Hinton's Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names was a big help, as was The Handbook of Texas, and I'd definitely recommend both for further reading.

ACRES HOMES

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Originally marketed as country life with city access, Acres Homes was often divided by the acre instead of the plot, giving homeowners enough room for a garden and maybe even a few chickens.

ALDINE

Aldine was a stop on International-Great Northern Railroad in the 1890s. It was named after a family who owned a nearby farm, although not much information about that family is known.

ALIEF

In 1894 this community was surveyed and named Dairy, Texas. But there already was another town in Texas named Dairy, so the postal service started calling the town Alief in honor of its first postmistress, Alief Ozella Magee.

ALVIN

In 1872, the Santa Fe Railroad hired Alvin Morgan to supervise its cattle operations in the area, and he built the community's first house. The town originally was called Morgan, but Texas already had a Morgan, so Alvin was the next best thing.

ATASCOCITA

This area is named for what is probably the oldest road in the Houston area, a military highway laid out in the 1700s.  Even though the name is old, construction didn’t begin in the area until the 1970s.

BAYTOWN

Baytown is home to Burnet Bay, Crystal Bay, Scott Bay, Mitchell Bay, Black Duck Bay, San Jacinto Bay, Tabbs Bay, and Galveston Bay. That's a lot of bays.

BELLAIRE

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Burlington Railroad executive William Wright Baldwin founded Bellaire after purchasing the Rice Ranch in 1908. Promotional materials in 1909 claimed Baldwin named the community for its fresh breezes, although it might've just been named for Bellaire, Ohio, a town on his railroad.

BRAESWOOD PLACE

The word "Braes" is commonly seen on signs around Houston, and Marks Hinton notes in Historic Houston Streets that it's the Scottish word for hillside. Scotland's hills are significantly steeper than Houston's, but accuracy isn't as important as aspiration when it comes to naming subdivisions. This spelling is sometimes confused with that of Brays Bayou, which is named for James Bray, a surveyor for the Mexican government who was one of the area's first Anglo settlers.

CHANNELVIEW

Channelview is located on the northern side of the Houston Ship Channel.

DENVER HARBOR

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Denver Harbor's original subdivisions were Denver, Harbor, Harbordale, and Liberty Heights, and the name "Denver Harbor" was used to describe the whole community. The place is also known as Podunk, in reference to that word being written on a local water tower in 1939. Authorities repeatedly covered the graffito, but it would usually reappear after a few days.

FRIENDSWOOD

At the turn of the last century, a group of Quakers bought 1,500 acres of land along the county line between Harris and Galveston. For 60 years they called this wooded area home. Quakers are also known as the Society of Friends.

FREEDMEN’S TOWN

Freedmen's Town is Houston's oldest black community. It was established after the Civil War when 1000 freed slaves settled on inexpensive swampy land along Buffalo Bayou.

FIRST WARD, SECOND WARD, ETC.

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After John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen founded Houston in 1836, they divided it into four geographic territories called wards. These wards were divided without regard to population, using geographic boundaries such as streets and the bayou. The first four wards intersected at Congress Street and Main Street. As Houston's population grew, the Fifth Ward was carved out of parts of the First and Second in 1866, and the Sixth Ward was created a decade later from a cut of the Fourth. Each ward elected two aldermen, with the mayor receiving votes citywide. The ward system was abolished in 1915, but that hasn't stopped members of the community, including the Geto Boys, from using the designations.

GARDEN OAKS

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Developer Edward Lillo Crain Sr. loved gardens. True story.

HARRISBURG

Harrisburg is older than Houston. It was given its name in 1826 by a New York entrepreneur named John Richardson Harris. He didn't look far for inspiration.

HEDWIG VILLAGE

In 1906, Hedwig Jankowski joined her sister and other German immigrants in what is now the Spring Branch Memorial area. She met and married Henry Schroeder, and the two set up a farm in what would become Hedwig Village.

HOUSTON HEIGHTS

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The Heights is 23 feet higher than downtown.

HUMBLE

Humble was founded by Pleasant Smith Humble, a ferryboat operator on the San Jacinto River who arrived before the Civil War.

JERSEY VILLAGE

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Jersey Village began in 1953 when a dairy farmer named Clark W. Henry decided to develop the area. One story is that he named the neighborhood after his Jersey cows.

KATY

There are two theories: Either Katy was named for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, which was called the KT by railroad officials, or it was named for a barkeeper's wife. Which theory you choose to believe probably says something about you.

KINGWOOD

Kingwood was created by the Friendswood Development Company in 1971. The land was previously held by the King Ranch, which lent its name to one delicious chicken casserole recipe and owns enough acreage to cover Rhode Island. Take "King Ranch" and add "Friendswood," and you've got "Kingwood."

MEMORIAL

Camp Logan Development outside the Interstate 610 loop began in the 1950s along Memorial Drive. That arterial road was named in honor of the men who served in Camp Logan, a WW1 emergency training center, which is now the site of Memorial Park.

MEYERLAND

Meyerland was developed by George Meyer.

MIDTOWN

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In 1995, the City of Houston established the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The area is located between downtown and the Museum District, and before revitalization it showed serious signs of urban blight. The name "Midtown" was no doubt seen as a better lure for young urban professionals than "that sketchy area around the Greyhound station."

MONTROSE

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Montrose was named after a historic town in Scotland by J.W. Link of the Houston Land Corporation.

MUSEUM DISTRICT

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The Museum District is home to the Museum of Natural Science, the Children's Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Contemporary Art Museum, among others.

OAK FOREST

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Frank W. Sharp developed this community after World War II, presumably inspired by its trees. Sharp is also the man behind Jacinto City, Royden Oaks, Lamar Weslayan, and Sharpstown.

PASADENA

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Pasadena, California is named for the Chippewa Indian word for "valley." The Texas town's pre-industrial lushness apparently reminded early developers of the California community.

PEARLAND

This community was originally established as Mark Belt in 1893, but within a year the name was changed to account for the pear trees in the region (which was probably a good call).

RICE MILITARY

The Rice family owned a section of land near Camp Logan. Put those two together and you've got Rice Military.

RICE VILLAGE

Speaking of the Rice family, its most famous son was William Marshall Rice, a Massachusetts-born businessman who endowed Rice University in 1891 before being murdered nine years later in New York City by his butler and attorney. His ashes are underneath a statue on the campus, and the adjacent neighborhood also bears his name.

RIVER OAKS

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River Oaks is named for the trees that line the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

SHARPSTOWN

Sharpstown was developer Frank W. Sharp's biggest project, so he went ahead and gave this one his own name.

STAFFORD

William Stafford was among the first settlers to receive land grants in Stephen F. Austin's colony. In 1835 he killed a man and fled to the United States, but three years later was granted clemency on the grounds that the man he killed was "destitute of character" and "much addicted to brawls." Stafford returned to his plantation and died two years later.

SOUTH PARK

South Park is south of MacGregor Park.

SPRING BRANCH

This community is named for the creek that intersected Buffalo Bayou at the spot where German farmers began settling in 1830. How that creek came to be called Spring Branch is unknown.

SUGAR LAND

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This community has been home to sugar mills since at least 1843, and it became a company town of the Imperial Sugar Company in the early 1900s.

TANGLEWOOD

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Tanglewood was developed by William Giddings Farrington. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls was one of his daughter's favorite books.

TOMBALL

Originally called Peck, Tomball was renamed in honor of Thomas Henry Ball, a big supporter of the Houston Ship Channel. In 1914, Ball ran for governor on the Prohibitionist ticket, but his quest was sidelined by his opponent who hired people to take photos of him in saloons and turned Woodrow Wilson’s endorsement of Ball into Washington interfering in Texas.

UPPER KIRBY

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This district is named for its location on Kirby Drive, which in turn is named for John Henry Kirby, a businessman whose lumber company dominated more than 300,000 acres of East Texas pines.

WEST UNIVERSITY PLACE

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This place is west of Rice University.

THE WOODLANDS

In 1972, the Mitchell Energy & Development Corporation created this community among the pines north of Houston. The area had been the site of timber mills for years.

Welcome to Cool, California. Population: 2520

Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not hard to find U.S. towns with some pretty weird (and sometimes depressing) names, so we shouldn't be surprised that people have the option of settling in the tiny town of Cool, California.

Initially named Cave Valley, due to the limestone formations nearby, the town popped up around 1849 during the California Gold Rush. The population eventually grew to 4100 people.

It's unclear when the town went from Cave Valley to being Cool. One legend suggests that a beatnik named Todd Hausman bequeathed the name after passing through in the 1950s, but the veracity of that story is doubtful since the Cool Post Office was founded as early as 1885. According to Condé Nast Traveler, records show that a reverend named Peter Y. Cool came out to pan gold and settled in the town in 1850, possibly serving as the source of the change.

Whatever the origin of its name, the town of Cool has ample branding opportunities. There’s the Cool Grocery Store and the Cool Beerwerks brewery and restaurant, which specializes in Hawaiian-Japanese fusion cuisine. Cool has held the Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run every year since 1990.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

11 Weird Place Names From Around the World

The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
hipproductions/iStock via Getty Images

Shakespeare wasn’t wrong when he said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if these places had any other names, they probably wouldn’t have made this list (or international headlines, in a couple of cases). Read on to discover the fascinating details behind Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay, French Polynesia’s Disappointment Islands, and other strangely named locales from all corners of the globe.

1. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

At 58 characters, this tiny Welsh village on the isle of Anglesey has the longest place name in Europe. Translated to English, it’s a phrase that describes the town’s location: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave. According to Atlas Obscura, the town has existed in some form for thousands of years, but in 1880 a publicity-oriented tailor changed its name from Llanfairpwll to its current moniker in an attempt to attract tourists. Luckily for us, Llanfairpwll is still an acceptable nickname, as is Llanfair PG. Listen to weather reporter Liam Dutton pronounce it like a pro here.

2. Batman, Turkey

Both a Turkish province and its capital city are named Batman for the nearby Batman River. Batman itself could have come from the ancient unit of measurement (equal to 16.96 pounds), or it could be a shortening of the name of the nearby Bati Raman mountains. Either way, the city became the source of scandal in 2008 when its then-mayor, Huseyin Kalkan, threatened to sue Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan over their use of the term in the Dark Knight trilogy. (No lawsuit was ever actually filed.) There are also plenty of people who want to reinforce the connection between the place name and superhero—over 26,000 have signed a petition to change the province’s borders to look like the bat symbol.

3. Eggs and Bacon Bay, Tasmania

eggs and bacon flower
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay is named after a regional wildflower commonly known as eggs and bacon, whose petals are a mixture of the sunny yellow of egg yolks and the deep red of bacon. The bay made national news in 2016 when PETA petitioned unsuccessfully to change its name to a more animal-friendly “Apple and Cherry Bay.” It doesn’t look like the idea ever made it to a vote at the local council, and officials didn’t seem keen on it. Huon Valley deputy mayor Ian Paul told The Guardian that the idea was “ludicrous,” adding “I feel pretty strongly about it. This is our heritage, it is our history.”

4. Wonowon, British Columbia

It’s not a coincidence that this Canadian town, pronounced “one-oh-one,” is located on Alaska Highway’s Mile 101, where the U.S. Army operated a 24-hour checkpoint during World War II. The town was originally named Blueberry after the nearby Blueberry River, but was eventually changed to Wonowon to prevent people from confusing it for another Blueberry in the southeastern Kootenay region. It’s not clear when the name officially changed to Wonowon, but according to a mention in a 1956 issue of the Northern Sentinel, the Post Office recognized it as Wonowon, while the residents still called it Blueberry. Why Blueberry in the first place, you ask? Possibly because British Columbia produces 96 percent of Canada’s cultivated blueberries.

5. Spa, Belgium

fountain in Spa, Belgium
Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Spa, Belgium, sounds relaxing, and for good reason. The word spa comes from this eastern Belgian town, whose curative mineral springs have been visited since the 16th century and were even mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Spa itself could be derived from espa, the Walloon word for "spring" or “fountain,” or the Latin word spagere, meaning “to scatter, sprinkle, moisten.” Or it could be an acronym for the Latin phrase sanitas per aquas, which fittingly means “health through water.”

6. Westward Ho!, England

book cover of Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Frederick Warne & Co, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1855, Charles Kingsley published a book called Westward Ho!, in which a young man leaves his home in Bideford, England, to pursue a seafaring life of adventure under the tutelage of famed explorer Sir Francis Drake. The book became a bestseller, and some enterprising folks formed the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company in 1863 with the intention of capitalizing on the attention. They started by building the Westward Ho! Hotel, and continued to develop the area by constructing terraces, lodges, bath houses, stables, and a golf club. As development progressed, the village that sprung up around the hotel became known as Westward Ho! also.

7. The Office Girls, Antarctica

The Office Girls are two glacial islands, also called nunataks, about seven miles away from Welcome Mountain near the Southern Ocean coast of Antarctica. There are so many tiny pieces of land to map in Antarctica that the U.S. has an Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name them all—and in 1970 they chose “The Office Girls” as a tribute to all of the personnel who assisted with the administrative side of the missions from home in the continental U.S.

8. Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario

The origin of the name of this tiny hamlet has been debated for decades. Some people say it’s the product of a German tavern owner’s slurred rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while others say Punkeydoodle was an insult thrown at resident pumpkin-grower John Burbrigg by a vexed neighbor, and from then on his plot of land was called “Punkeydoodle’s Corners.” The charming Canadian town was once home to a somewhat charming Canadian crime: Mischief-makers often stole the town’s sign, until Canada Day in 1982, when community members replaced it with a concrete monument that weighs almost a ton.

9. Malpelo Island, Colombia

Sunset over Malpelo Island
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

The Spanish words mal pelo translate to “bad hair” in English, implying that this island is in some way a nightmare for bouffants, beehives, and blowouts. It’s more likely the result of a metaphorical game of telephone that spanned half the globe and several centuries. It could be derived from the Latin malveolus, meaning “inhospitable” or “spiteful,” which might’ve become malbolo and later mal pelo [PDF]. It’s also on a world map from 1550 as ye mallabry, which probably means malabrigo, a word for “shelterless” that Spanish cartographers used to mark some islands and bays. Malabrigo sort of sounds like mal pelo, at least if you’re shouting it to someone on the opposite side of the island.

10. Hotazel, South Africa

Welcome to Hotazel, where it’s hot as hell—or at least it was on the day in 1915 when a group of land surveyors assessed a farm in South Africa and named the whole place “Hot As Hell,” now spelled “Hotazel.” The climate is actually pretty reasonable, with summer temperatures sometimes reaching the 90s (in Fahrenheit) and winter temperatures sometimes dipping into the 30s.

11. Disappointment Islands, French Polynesia

In 1765, Lord Byron’s grandfather John Byron was sailing around the tip of South America when he chanced upon a tiny island in the distance. To him and his scurvy-ridden crew, it looked like paradise, but he soon realized the high surf and coral reefs prevented safe anchorage. That, in addition to the spear-wielding natives stationed along the shore, dashed their hopes so severely that Byron named the island (and its nearby sister landmass) the Islands of Disappointment. This may have shielded the islands from centuries of follow-up explorers, but it also literally gives them a bad name. In reality, says BBC Travel’s Andrew Evans, they’re "timeless."

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