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How Portland's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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There are 95 officially recognized neighborhoods in Portland, plus several more areas that people think are neighborhoods but aren't (hello, Hawthorne!). Many of these started out as separate communities that were later consolidated into Portland, and many of them have their roots in the great land rush of the 1850s, when the Donation Land Claim Act brought thousands of new settlers to Oregon.

We didn't bother with some neighborhoods whose names are based on topology (Hillside, Hillsdale, Southwest Hills, Sylvan-Highlands), geography (Northwest Industrial, Downtown, Far Southwest, North Tabor, South Tabor), or other obvious things (Old Town, Chinatown). We also omitted some that aren't commonly used.

Here they are, arranged according to quadrant. Yes, Portland defies the laws of math and language by having five quadrants. It's a special place.

SW PORTLAND

GOOSE HOLLOW

In August 1875, this area just west of downtown was the site of an amusing neighborhood argument. As reported by The Oregonian, some 75 geese owned by local residents were being permitted to roam free, wreaking havoc on gardens and generally creating a nuisance. When a police officer tried to drive them away, he was set upon by several local women, all claiming ownership of the birds—the geese had intermingled for so long that no one knew which ones belonged to whom. A judge ordered that the geese be split up evenly among the interested women, and said he'd incarcerate anyone who started another goose-related ruckus. The nickname Goose Hollow emerged a few years later, first as a pejorative (this was a "seedy" part of town, and the incident made the locals seem like rubes), but residents came to embrace it.

HAYHURST

This neighborhood at the western edge of Portland was named after its Hayhurst Elementary School. When the school was planned in the 1950s, it was called David Douglas, in honor of the famed Scottish botanist (and namesake of the Pacific Northwest's Douglas fir trees). When the school opened in 1954, it was changed to honor Elizabeth Hayhurst, the first president of the Oregon Parent-Teacher Association.

MAPLEWOOD

Merzperson, Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1912, Maplewood took its name from a station on the Oregon Electric Railway, which connected Portland to Salem.

MARKHAM

Named after Charles Edward Anson Markham, who was poet laureate of Oregon (1923-1931) despite only having lived in the state for the first four years of his life. As a poet, he went by Edwin Markham, and his most famous work was "The Man with the Hoe." Markham is not to be confused with Philip A. Marquam, an Oregon legislator and real estate developer for whom the Marquam Bridge (a.k.a. the I-5 bridge) is named.

SOUTH BURLINGAME

Named because it's at the lower end of Burlingame Avenue, of course. Burlingame's origin is murky, but it may have been inspired by the town of that name in California. (The neighborhood that one might expect to be called North Burlingame is called Hillsdale.)

NW PORTLAND

ALPHABET DISTRICT

Raul, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The unimaginatively named Northwest District is more commonly known as the Alphabet District because the neighborhood features 22 east-west streets that go alphabetically (starting at the south) from Burnside up to Wilson. They're all named for prominent Portlanders of yesteryear. Another prominent Portlander, Matt Groening, repurposed a few of these street names for Simpsons characters: Flanders, Kearney, Lovejoy, and Quimby.

FOREST PARK

So named because the neighborhood is next to Forest Park, which is so named because it's a forest that's also a park.

LINNTON

Running along the west side of the Willamette River, Linnton was incorporated as its own town in 1910, then merged with Portland in 1915. It was named after Lewis F. Linn, a U.S. senator from Missouri who strongly advocated for what would eventually be known as the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which encouraged settlement of Oregon by giving land away for free. Many of the people for whom Portland streets, schools, and buildings are named came here because of the DLC.

PEARL DISTRICT

Portland's newest and most fashionable neighborhood was nothing but warehouses and industrial buildings until the mid-1980s, when it started to get the urban renewal (and gentrification) treatment. Formerly known as the Northwest Industrial Triangle, it was given its new name in 1985 by a gallery owner named Thomas Augustine, who told a magazine writer that the neighborhood's artists, toiling away in old, crusty buildings, were like pearls inside oysters. But it had a double meaning: Augustine had already taken to calling it "Pearl's district," after his friend Pearl Marie Amhara, an Ethiopian Christian polyglot who traveled the world raising money for the poor.

SE PORTLAND

BROOKLYN

Some parts of Portland stole their names from other places, but Brooklyn wasn't one of them. It was Brookland at first, so named in 1851 by Giddeon Tibbets, the first white settler in the area, because of its many rivers and creeks. It evolved into Brooklyn a few decades later. The neighborhood was crime and poverty-stricken in the 1960s, but by the 1980s had been turned into a pleasant residential area, taking advantage of its adjacency to the east side of the Willamette River.

CRESTON-KENILWORTH

Named for two of the parks in it. The Creston part, like many local names, comes from a land developer. But the Kenilworth part comes from Sir Walter Scott's 1821 novel of that name. Scott's books are also referenced in Portland's Woodstock neighborhood and in Waverly and Ivanhoe. It was trendy in America in the late 1800s to name stuff after Scott books. Watch for land being developed now to have names like "Bella," "Edward," and "Twilight."

FOSTER-POWELL

Named for two of the three streets that form its triangular boundaries (the other is 82nd Avenue). It's the only hyphenated neighborhood named that way. Foster Road comes from early resident Philip Foster, a prominent farmer and the brother-in-law of F.W. Pettygrove, one of Portland's founders. Powells Valley Road, named after the family of Jackson Powell who homesteaded land in the Gresham area in 1853, became Powell Boulevard.

HOSFORD-ABERNETHY

This mouthful of a neighborhood, home to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), was named for two 1800s fellows: Rev. Chauncey O. Hosford, a Methodist minister and schoolteacher (and at one time the owner of the property at the top of Mt. Tabor), and George Abernethy, Oregon's first governor. Why those two? Because the neighborhood is actually named after two of its schools, Hosford Middle and Abernethy Elementary.

LENTS

Oliver P. Lent was an Ohio stone mason who came to the Portland area with his wife in 1852, settling in what is now Lents in 1866. He became a prominent farmer and rancher, and he won the right to name the settlement in a coin toss with fellow settler William Johnson (who got to immortalize himself in Johnson's Creek as a consolation prize).

MT. TABOR

In 1853, some Methodists in this area were starting a church and wanted to use an area name, only the area didn't have a name yet. So they gave it one: Mt. Tabor, after the mountain in Biblical Palestine. Rev. Clinton Kelly's son Plympton suggested it. The mountain at the center of this neighborhood is actually a volcano! (Not the fun kind, though—it's what's called a volcanic cinder cone. And it's not much of a mountain either, being only about 425 feet higher than the land around it.)

REED

Simeon G. Reed worked in the liquor and grocery business for wealthy entrepreneur William S. Ladd, became an investor in various river-based concerns, and soon came to be involved in land development. He got rich. The neighborhood named for him is home to the liberal arts college that's also named for him.

RICHMOND

The neighborhood is named after Dr. Richmond Kelly, son of Rev. Clinton Kelly and brother of the Kelly boy who suggested calling it Mt. Tabor back in 1853.

SELLWOOD

Sellwood, technically known as Sellwood-Moreland, contains Westmoreland and is adjacent to Eastmoreland. Those were named after real estate developer, lawyer, and judge Julius Caesar Moreland. Sellwood was named after Rev. John Sellwood, and started as its own city, incorporated in 1887. Portland annexed it in 1893.

SUNNYSIDE

Most people call this funky area Belmont, after the main street that goes through it. How it got its official name of Sunnyside is unknown, though considering the climate in Portland, it may have been sarcastic.

WOODSTOCK

The title of a novel by Sir Walter Scott. See also: Creston-Kenilworth.

NE PORTLAND

ALAMEDA

The word is Spanish for a grove of poplar or cottonwood trees ("alamo"). None of these trees ever lined Alameda Street or its namesake neighborhood, but it came in thanks to its secondary meaning of a “tree lined avenue.”

BEAUMONT

Actually Beaumont-Wilshire, but nobody calls it that. From the French for "beautiful mountain"—a stretch, since the subdivision is only slightly elevated, but developers wanted to emphasize it.

CONCORDIA

Derek, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Named for Concordia University, which has been the center of the neighborhood since 1905. The university gets its name from the 16th-century collection of Lutheran doctrinal teachings, and is one of 10 colleges and universities in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia University System.

CULLY

Gets its name from Tom Cully, one of the many settlers in the early 1850s who took advantage of the Donation Land Claim Act.

GRANT PARK

That'd be Ulysses S. Grant. As an army lieutenant, he spent a year stationed at Fort Vancouver (in Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland) and made local friends, one of whom (attorney general George H. Williams) he appointed to his cabinet when he later became president. After his presidency, he visited Portland in 1879 and in 1883. The Grant Park neighborhood includes U.S. Grant Place, Grant Street, and Grant High School.

HOLLYWOOD


This is one of Portland's smallest neighborhoods (about 0.18 square miles), and it's centered around the Hollywood Theatre, a 1926 movie palace that is now a lovingly restored three-screen art-house. Before the theater came along, this neighborhood was part of the adjacent Rose City Park district. So impressed were the locals by the ornate cinema that they broke off a chunk of Rose City Park and renamed it Hollywood. As it happens, the area was already informally named Hollyrood, after the Scottish Holyrood, so it wasn't much of a change.

IRVINGTON

The subdivision was platted in 1887 by descendants of Capt. William Irving, an important figure in the early maritime history of Portland. The neighborhood includes some of the land that Irving settled in the 1850s as part of the Donation Land Claim Act.

KING

Historically the part of Portland with the highest concentration of African American residents, this neighborhood was called Highland until 1989, when Union Avenue (which runs down the middle of it) was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A name change for the neighborhood quickly ensued.

SABIN

Like many Portland neighborhoods, Sabin is named after one of its public schools. The Sabin School was named after Ella C. Sabin, who was the city superintendent and a high school principal in the late 1800s.

SULLIVAN'S GULCH

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Named for Timothy Sullivan, an Irishman who came to Oregon with his Tasmanian wife in 1851 and settled on this land. Sullivan's Gulch is wedged between the Lloyd District and Irvington, and often gets lumped in with them. But in olden times, it was a lush, beautiful area filled with running water. (During the Great Depression, it was also full of shantytowns.) Its southern border is I-84, the Banfield Freeway, which residents considered renaming Sullivan's Gulch Pike in 1955 before thinking better of it.

NE and SE PORTLAND

LAURELHURST

In 1909, 462 acres of farmland were sold to a development company founded by two Portlanders and two Seattleites. The company had just finished a Seattle project called Laurelhurst, named for the local laurel shrubbery ("hurst" is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning a wood or grove), and they reused the name for Portland. They apparently liked it a lot: they named their own firm, formally organized in May 1909, The Laurelhurst Company.

MONTAVILLA

Streetcars running through Mount Tabor Village, as it was known in the 1890s, abbreviated it "Mt. Ta. Villa" on their destination signs. Later that became "Monta.Villa," which evidently had a nice ring to it because residents adopted it as the official name.

N PORTLAND

CATHEDRAL PARK

The park is under the St. Johns Bridge, on the east side of the Willamette River. The bridge has a gothic look to it, hence the name.

HAYDEN ISLAND

An actual island in the Columbia River, which separates Portland, Ore., from Vancouver, Wash. Oregon claims Hayden Island, but the man it's named after, Gay Hayden, mostly owned property in Vancouver, not Portland. He owned most of Hayden Island, too, and lived in a fancy house there.

KENTON

In the early 20th century, Kenton went from being a small farming community to a company town built by a meat-packing company. Developers had Kenwood in mind for its name, but another settlement in Oregon was already using it, so they went with Kenton. Both names were probably inspired by Francis McKenna, one of the prominent real estate developers of the day. There's a big Paul Bunyan statue here.

OVERLOOK

This subdivision, platted in 1906, is on a bluff with a view of the Willamette River. You might say it "overlooks" it.

PORTSMOUTH

There was an attempt to form a city of Portsmouth around Portsmouth Avenue and Lombard Street in the 1880s, but plans fell through. The area is near the mouth of Portland's harbor, which may have inspired the name. There are also old cities by that name in New Hampshire and Virginia, both namesakes of the seaport and naval base in England.

ST. JOHNS

megan, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A settler named James John (or Johns—he signed it both ways on documents) came to the area in the 1840s. A widower and something of a hermit, he was also known for his compassion and service. He operated a general store and a ferry service on the Willamette. The locals liked him, calling him "Old Jimmy Johns" and "St. Johns." St. Johns was a separate incorporated city from 1902-1915, when residents voted to join Portland.

UNIVERSITY PARK

Methodists established Portland University in 1891, but it lasted less than a decade before financial problems forced its sale to the Catholics, who reopened it in 1901 as Columbia University. It was renamed University of Portland in 1935, and it remains the focus of the University Park neighborhood to this day.

N and NE PORTLAND

HUMBOLDT

Most of the many American places called Humboldt are ultimately named after the German naturalist Baron Friedrich Alexander von Humboldt. Portland's Humboldt neighborhood may have also been more directly inspired by Humboldt County and Humboldt Bay in California, or by a tavern called Humboldt House (owned by the Kroetz family) in East Portland in the 1880s.

BOISE

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The Boise subdivision, formed in 1892, may have been named for Reuben Boise, a prominent citizen of the 1850s for whom Boise Elementary School was named. But there's no record of any official connection between him and the Boise plat; moreover, he pronounced his name "Boyce," while folks in the Boise neighborhood say "Boisy." There was also W.L. Boise, a notary public around the turn of the century whose name appears on real estate documents. And of course there's Boise, Idaho, which the developers may have been thinking of. No one knows for sure.

ELIOT


This was the center of the city of Albina before Albina was folded into Portland. It was named after Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot, a Unitarian minister who came to Oregon in 1867 and quickly became one of the area's most influential religious figures. He was also president of the Portland Children's Home, the Oregon Humane Society, and the Portland Associated Charities, with additional work in the art association and library association.

PIEDMONT

The word comes from the Italian for "foot of a mountain," thus "foothill." It was officially platted in 1889 and may have been Portland's first planned community.

LLOYD DISTRICT

Ralph B. Lloyd moved from California to Portland in 1905, returned to L.A. in 1911, struck oil, got rich, moved back to Portland, and bought a ton of land. The area named for him is also home to the Lloyd Center mall.

TECHNICALLY NOT OFFICIAL NEIGHBORHOODS BUT PEOPLE ACT LIKE THEY ARE

ALBERTA ARTS DISTRICT

This hip artsy area, centered around Alberta Street, is mostly in the Humboldt and King neighborhoods. The street got its name in 1891, when the English royal family—including Princess Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria—was all the rage.

ALBINA

A separate town consolidated into Portland in 1891, named for Mrs. Albina Page, wife of one of the founders.

HAWTHORNE

There is no Hawthorne neighborhood. In fact, the hipster-y section of Hawthorne Boulevard that people think of as "Hawthorne" doesn't belong to ANY neighborhood: running east-west, it's the dividing line between the Buckman and Sunnyside neighborhoods to the north and Hosford-Abernethy and Richmond to the south. At any rate, it was named after Dr. J.C. Hawthorne, cofounder of Oregon's first mental hospital.

JOHN'S LANDING

Found in the disappointingly named South Portland neighborhood, John's Landing isn't named after the same person as St. Johns, but after the B.P. John Furniture Company, a major manufacturer back when it was an industrial area.

LADD'S ADDITION

Portland's oldest planned residential neighborhood (now part of the Hosford-Abernethy hood) was named for the man who developed it, William S. Ladd, a New Englander who came to Portland in 1851 and subsequently became very, very wealthy. Ladd's Addition, notable for its X-shaped grid of streets, was never home to Mr. Ladd, whose mansion was in the fancier part of town.

MISSISSIPPI DISTRICT

The increasingly popular dining, music, and arts center, situated on Mississippi Avenue, is mostly in the Boise neighborhood. Why'd they call it Mississippi Avenue? We'll give you a hint: its part of a cluster of parallel avenues that also include Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, and Maryland. Sometimes the obvious explanation is the right one.

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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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How 25 London Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Ancient Anglo-Saxon chiefs, old-school religious rites, and lots of animals—London’s place names reflect the city’s bygone roots. Here are the stories behind 25 of the foggy capital’s most fascinating neighborhood names.

1. BARKING AND DAGENHAM

Move along—no dogs here. This borough got the canine-sounding half of its name from the area’s original moniker, Berecingas. The Anglo-Saxon word, which dates from at least 695 CE, is thought to mean “the territory of the birch-tree people,” or possibly a reference to someone named Bereca. Meanwhile, Dagenham is thought to be in reference to a land owner named Dæcca, likely also from the 7th century.

2. BELGRAVIA

Robert Grosvenor statue in Westminster, London
Robert Grosvenor statue in Westminster, London

Belgravia sounds kind of Continental, but its origin is 100 percent English. The suburb gets its name from the Grosvenor family, who developed the area in the 1820s. Alongside the title of Earl Grosvenor (and later the Marquess of Westminster, and still later Duke of Westminster), the family held the title of Viscount Belgrave, the name of part of their estate in Cheshire. Belgrave is thought to either mean “firewood” or “beautiful wood,” and the Grosvenor family still owns a large swath of the area.

3. BRENT

Brent is a Celtic word that means “hill” or “high place,” or in this context probably “holy one,” and is the name of a small river that runs through the area and may have once been worshipped. The borough itself was named in the 1960s when two former boroughs, Wembley and Willesden, merged.

4. CAMDEN TOWN

Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, owned the land that now forms Camden Town in the 18th century. His title was in reference to Camden Place, which itself was named after William Camden, a famous antiquarian. Fun fact: Unlike some of his fellow Lords, Camden didn’t support the Stamp Act, the 1765 law that forced American colonists to pay heavy taxes on papers and pamphlets to subsidize British revenue. His first speech in the House of Lords was a fiery rebuttal of the law—and a South Carolina town was named after him in celebration of his support of colonial rights.

5. CHALK FARM

Chalk Farm used to be part of a manor called Chalcot, from which it gets its name. Ironically, there doesn’t seem to have been any chalk mining in the area—the ground surface is clay.

6. CLERKENWELL

If the name sounds like “Clerk’s well,” it’s for a reason. Clerk is an ancient term for an educated person or clergyman, and the priests of London are thought to have performed holy rites and religious plays annually at a spring or well in the area. Builders found the actual well in 1924.

7. CROYDON

Saffron crocuses growing

Croydon’s not-so-pretty name derives from a beautiful sight: flowers. Crocus sativus, the flowers from which saffron is gathered, are thought to have grown in the area long ago. The Anglo-Saxons combined their word for crocus, croh, with the word for valley, denu, and later the nickname was shortened.

8. EALING

Ealing’s name has a long history and is thought to have derived from an Anglo-Saxon settler named Gilla. His descendants were the Gillingas, and that name eventually morphed into Yealing, Zelling and Eling, before becoming Ealing in the 19th century.

9. GOLDERS GREEN

A family named Godyer or Godyere likely gave Golders Green its alliterative name. Or maybe it was the Groles or Godders, both of whose names were associated with the neighborhood in the 1700s.

10. GREENWICH

Place names that end in -wich often denote a trading settlement or a bay/harbor, and Greenwich—which lies on the River Thames—was apparently green at one point. Think of it as the Green Bay of London.

11. HARINGEY

This London borough is relatively new—it was created in 1965 when London authorities merged Tottenham, Wood Green, and Hornsey into a single borough. But it takes its name from a much older word: Haringay, an Anglo-Saxon term for a rocky place, but possibly related to a Saxon chief named Haering. The neighborhood name was once spelled Haringesheye, which some pronounced as Hornsey, which is now a neighborhood within Haringay.

12. ISLE OF DOGS

Baby ducks with their mother
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The Isle of Dogs is really a peninsula according to some, and the dog part may be equally deceptive. According to Londonist’s Laura Reynolds, the neighborhood’s name could come from ducks, docks, dykes, or other D words. Nonetheless, it’s had the name since the 1500s—that’s eons in dog years.

13. ISLINGTON

Islington was once known as Gisla’s Hill, or Gislandune, after the Saxon chief who once owned the place. That eventually turned into Iseldone, and then Islington.

14. KINGSTON UPON THAMES

This borough has one of London’s most straightforward place names. Yes, it’s on the River Thames, and yes, it was once filled with kings. Home to an 838 CE meeting of noblemen and clergy called by Egbert, King of Wessex, it’s been associated with royals for centuries, and supposedly seven Saxon kings were crowned here. The name itself is thought to mean a manor or estate belonging to a king.

15. LAMBETH

This neighborhood might just have the cutest name, and it’s thought to have a fluffy origin. In 1088, the name Lamhytha, or "landing place for lambs,” was recorded for the area.

16. MARYLEBONE

No bones about it—Marylebone’s name comes from a church, St. Mary’s, which had a nearby stream, known as a burna to Anglo-Saxons.

17. MAYFAIR

Nepotism gave this ritzy district its name. In 1663, Charles II gave his buddy the Earl of St. Albans the right to hold a sheep and cattle market in what is now Haymarket. According to the London Encyclopedia, it was so filthy that James II shut it down a few years later, then later gave St. Albans’s heir the right to a new market—and an annual May fair—in what is now Mayfair.

18. NEWHAM

Newham is new indeed: It’s only been a borough since 1965, and since it combined two “Hams” (East Ham and West Ham), the “new” part seemed appropriate. The Old English word ham or hamm meant land that was hemmed in by water, such as the River Thames.

19. NOTTING HILL

Long before it was a rom-com, Notting Hill was, well, a hill. It was likely named after a Kensington manor owned by a baron or barons named Notting, Nutting, or Knolton Barns. Knottyng, from which the name likely derives, is a Middle English term that refers to either a hill or a place owned by someone named Cnotta.

20. PADDINGTON

Paddington wasn’t always a raincoat-clad bear. The area was named after Padda, an Anglo-Saxon landowner. Nobody remembers Padda, but the place that was once his farm is now iconic.

21. RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES

If not for a very rich man, Richmond-upon-Thames might be called something else: Sheen. The Thames-bound town was originally named after a local palace, which was originally called Sheen (meaning bright or shining). In 1501, King Henry VII rebuilt the palace and renamed it Rychemonde, after the town from which he'd gotten his title—the Earl of Richmond—before taking the crown.

22. SHEPHERD’S BUSH

Was Shepherd’s Bush really named after a shrub? Maybe. It’s thought that there could have been a bush or tree where shepherds and their flocks rested on their way to Smithfield Market, or perhaps one on property owned by someone named Shepherd. Either way, people have thought the name was weird for a long time. In 1905, Charles George Harper wrote that “the average inhabitant of Shepherd’s Bush is so used to the daily iteration of the name that his ears are blunted to its strangeness, and it is only the new-comer whose attention is arrested, who ever asks what it means, and when and how it arose.”

23. WALTHAM FOREST

Epping doesn’t sound a lot like Waltham, but it’s the forest that gave the newish borough its name. The ancient wood now known as Epping Forest is London’s biggest open space, and it was once part of the much larger Waltham Forest, which over the years gradually shrank in size.

24. WESTMINSTER

Westminster got its name from the church that is still its most famous resident. An abbey, church, or monastery is also known as a mynster in Old English, and Westminster Abbey was located in the westernmost part of old-school London long ago. Apparently there was once an East Minster, too, but it’s been lost to time.

25. WOOLWICH

Basket of wool on the grass

Woolwich got its name from the even-more-fun to say Uuluuich, an old-fashioned word for a place where wool was traded. The -ich, a suffix that means a landing place, made Woolwich a great place to trade wool, since it’s conveniently located near the Thames.

All photos via iStock except where noted.

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