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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

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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

A.Davey, Flickr //  CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Walklandia, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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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Neighborhoods
How 9 New Orleans Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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One of the most historic cities in the U.S., New Orleans dazzles with its ornate cathedrals, lush gardens, and neighborhoods that seem to melt into one another—so much so that it can be hard to know where exactly you are. But whether you find yourself in the Gentilly or the French Quarter, one thing’s for sure: The area’s bound to have a rich, compelling story to tell.

1. BYWATER

Known for its colorful Spanish and French architecture, Bywater encompasses—but is not limited to—much of the Bywater Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area has gone through a few different nicknames—it was first Faubourg Washington (faubourg being an old French term meaning something like suburb) and later Little Saxony, for its sizable population of German immigrants. But in the 1940s, when the telephone company gave each area a unique code name for the rotary phone dial (to help make phone numbers easier to remember), they went with BYwater for this neighborhood, due to its close proximity to the Mississippi River. Later, the code was changed to WHitehall, but it was too late by then: Bywater had caught on for good. Today, it’s also part of what’s affectionately known as “the Sliver by the River,” referring to the area along the water that saw no flooding during Hurricane Katrina, thanks to its slightly higher elevation compared to the rest of New Orleans.

2. PIGEON TOWN

Located in the 17th Ward, Pigeon Town is a working-class nabe known for its concentration of musicians and artists. It’s also sometimes called Pension Town, usually by newcomers to the area, and there’s been great debate over which name came first and is therefore correct. In 2015, The Times-Picayune tried to get to the root of the matter, finding local histories explaining the origins of both names. They found that Pension Town may date to late 19th-century wars and returning soldiers buying land with their army pensions, while Pigeon Town could be a reference to immigrants who once populated the area and spoke in “pidgin” English. Meanwhile, the city officially calls the region Leonidas, for the street running through its center, and it’s also called West Carrollton—as it once comprised about half of the town of Carrollton before it was incorporated into New Orleans. Pigeon Town or Pension Town are still the most common names you’ll heard these days, though, and locals often sidestep the whole issue by just calling it “P-Town.”

3. VIEUX CARRÉ

The balconies of the French Quarter decked out for Mardi Gras
iStock

The oldest part of the city, Vieux Carré is perhaps better known as the French Quarter, and it literally translates to “old square” in French. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this was the site of the original central plaza built by the French settlers in the early 1700s. Most of the neighborhood’s current buildings, however, were constructed by the Spanish during their rule of New Orleans in the later 1700s—and this is partially because the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 wiped out most of the French buildings. Buildings in the Vieux Carré are particularly known for the lacy, elaborate ironwork found on their signature “galleries” (a wider version of a balcony, supported by columns). The Vieux Carré is also the name of a classic cocktail from the 1930s—rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and two kinds of bitters—which was coined in the area’s own Hotel Monteleone.

4. LITTLE WOODS

This one isn’t too strange if you look at its original name, Petit Bois: It’s a direct translation of Little Woods. What’s perhaps more of a mystery is the fact that there were no forests growing in this area when it was first developed by the French. The "Little Woods" they were referring to was, in fact, the swamp vegetation on Lake Pontchartrain, which the neighborhood faces. Close enough.

5. ST. ROCH

The entrance to St. Roch cemetery
Bess Lovejoy

A subdivision of Bywater, St. Roch was known as Faubourg Franklin for its first century or so. But in the mid-19th century, a yellow fever epidemic hit the city of New Orleans, whereupon German priest Peter Leonard Thevis vowed to St. Roch, the patron saint of good health, to build a chapel in the area dedicated to him if no one in the parish died of the disease. The saint apparently provided, because Thevis built the chapel, along with a shrine and cemetery, both of which shortly became New Orleans landmarks. The neighborhood has been called St. Roch ever since.

6. TREMÉ

Although Claude Tremé only owned land in the area for a short time—and his wife was actually the one who inherited most of it—he’s somehow managed to be the lasting namesake of a neighborhood that has really gone through some nicknames. It was first called Place de Nègres, after the main plaza where slaves would gather to dance and play music. This name—both the plaza and the neighborhood—was later updated to Congo Square. In the late 19th century, the city of New Orleans renamed it Beauregard Square, after Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, but people ignored that and kept calling it Congo Square. Then the area was called Back of Town for many years, for its location away from both Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi and at the “back” of the French Quarter. In the ’70s, the city created Louis Armstrong Park and christened an open space within it “Congo Square,” in a callback to the area’s history. Today, its official name is actually Tremé-Lafitte, since it’s incorporated the Lafitte Projects. According to “The King of Tremé,” drummer Shannon Powell, the name “Tremé” has only been in use to refer to this area as of the 21st century. “We always called this neighborhood part of the 6th Ward. Local people called it that. No one local called the Tremé Tremé.”

7. ALGIERS

There are two main theories behind the name of this neighborhood that’s also known as the 15th Ward. One is that its location was so far-flung that the French settlers compared the distance between it and the rest of the city to the distance between France and Algeria. The other is that a soldier who had fought in Algeria said that the neighborhood looked similar to the north African landscape he’d recently returned from when viewed from a ship. Neither of these tales have been proven, however.

8. GENTILLY

Gentilly is a corruption of the word chantilly, but it’s not the lace that this neighborhood is named for. Instead, it’s the town of Chantilly, located just outside of Paris, for which the lace is also named—and more specifically, it was the town's grand Château de Chantilly that the French settlers had in mind when they developed this area just outside of New Orleans. It’s said that the G was swapped in because “French tongues have a hard time with something starting with ‘Ch.’”

9. METAIRIE

A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
A footbridge over Lafreniere Park in Metairie
iStock

Although it abuts the city limits to the west and is technically not a part of New Orleans, Metairie isn’t a separate city either, only an unincorporated “census-designated place,” so we’re counting it. The community got its name from four French brothers, the Chauvins, who owned thousands of acres in Jefferson Parish in the 1720s, which they split up to employ sharecroppers who paid their rent in produce. The French word for such a tenant farm is—voilà—métairie.

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How 8 Washington, D.C. Neighborhoods Got Their Names 
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Most people know that Washington, D.C. is packed with historic buildings, but its neighborhood names reflect a more intimate history that sometimes dates back all the way to the city's origins on the banks of the Potomac. Here are the stories behind a few of the District’s neighborhood names, plus a bonus story of one distinctively named neighborhood that is no longer.

1. ANACOSTIA

Anacostia gets its musical name from an Anglicization. In 1608, Captain John Smith made his first Chesapeake Bay voyage, sailing up the bay and exploring its many inlets and rivers. One of them led him to a village of Nactochtank people—one of many tribes that inhabited the region and used its rivers and plains for food and trading. As European traders kept coming to the region, someone Anglicized anaquash(e)tan(i)k, the Nacotchtank word for village or trading center, as Anacostia. The name stuck among white settlers, and despite being briefly named Uniontown, Anacostia is known by that name to this day.

2. KALORAMA

Another one of Washington’s most sonorous place names comes from Greek. In 1807, a poet named Joel Barlow moved into a house with some seriously sweet views of the newly built White House and Capitol. He nicknamed it Kalorama—“beautiful view” in Greek.

3. PLEASANT PLAINS

Awesome views apparently abounded in old Washington. In the 1700s, a farmer named James Holmead bought a huge tract of undeveloped land in what was then Maryland. The family named part of their estate “Pleasant Plains,” and it stuck. The Holmead family loved dramatic estate names—other properties included James’s Park and the fancifully named “Widow’s Mite.” Pleasant Plains was eventually divvied up, and part of the estate was turned into a luxury suburb called Mt. Pleasant. James’s son, Anthony, also opened a burial ground that has since gone defunct.

4. FOGGY BOTTOM

A photograph of the Washington, DC Foggy Bottom Metro station
The Foggy Bottom Metro station.

Not all views in early Washington were pleasant, however. Take the area near where the Potomac and Rock Creek meet, now one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It was settled early in the city’s history and initially known as Hamburgh, a German settlement that became part of Washington when the federal district was created. The area later became an industrial center, home to two breweries and a gas works. Foggy Bottom was never terribly inviting: The damp marsh was prone to mists and overrun by frogs. But the smoke and smog emitted by its industrial residents is thought to be responsible for its catchy nickname. Today, the neighborhood shares that handle with the U.S. Department of State, which is headquartered in the neighborhood.

5. FORT TOTTEN

The Fort Totten neighborhood shares a name with a one-time military base turned park in Queens, New York. The D.C. version was also once a real fort, built starting in 1861 to protect Abraham Lincoln’s summer home, and later became part of a park. The fort can still be seen—just one of the District’s many Civil War fortifications—and today, a tiny neighborhood is named after the fort and the park.

6. TRINIDAD

Spoiler alert: There are multiple Trinidads, too. The one not in the Caribbean is squarely in northeastern D.C. It’s named after the tropical country thanks to James Barry, a land speculator who once lived in the original Trinidad and who named his farm after the country, then sold it to another mogul, William Wilson Corcoran. Corcoran enjoyed life on Trinidad Farm until he decided to give it away, donating it in 1872 to what is now George Washington University. The college sold it to a brickworks, who sold part of it to a group of developers, who sold the land to residents of the new neighborhood of Trinidad.

7. CHEVY CHASE

A photo of sunset on Western Avenue in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, with the Maryland side on the right.
Sunset on Western Avenue in the Chevy Chase neighborhood.

The D.C. area has two Chevy Chases: A neighborhood in the city itself, and an adjoining town in suburban Maryland. Both derive their name from a land company that still exists today.

As Washington, D.C. expanded, real estate investors began to vie for unoccupied land, including farmland in the northwestern part of the city. The Chevy Chase Land Company, which was founded by future Nevada representative and senator and noted white supremacist Francis G. Newlands, began snapping up that land in the 1890s. Newlands milked both his mining fortune and his government connections to create what he saw as the ideal suburb. Today, that neighborhood is known for its large collection of Sears kit houses—bungalows that land owners bought directly from the Sears catalogue and assembled themselves.

8. CARVER LANGSTON

Carver Langston doesn’t just have two names: It’s two neighborhoods that are too small to be referred to as individual neighborhoods. The first, Carver, was named after George Washington Carver, the African American inventor and botanist. The second, Langston, was named after John Mercer Langston, who became one of the first African-Americans to hold elected office in the United States (township clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio in 1855) before going on to establish Howard University’s Law Department and becoming Virginia’s first black Representative.

BONUS: SWAMPOODLE

Alas, the Washington neighborhood with the weirdest name is no more. In the 19th century, a shantytown on the banks of the Tiber Creek earned the name “swampoodle”—an apparent reference to the area’s swampy puddles. With a reputation for being wild and crime-ridden, it was known as “the ideal place to turn a dishonest dollar.” But the neighborhood didn’t make it out of the 19th century and was eventually displaced when Union Station was built. Oddly enough, Philadelphia had its own Swampoodle—a section of North Philly whose name disappeared at some point during the 20th century (although some residents are currently trying to bring it back as "Swampoodle Heights").

All photos via iStock.

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