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How 65 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

If you’re from Pittsburgh and you’re on Facebook, you probably saw the much-shared “fantasy map” of the city patterned after those of Middle Earth included in J.R.R. Tolkien books. Last year, I talked to Stentor Danielson, the cartographer and professor of geography who created it. He said that one could determine much about a place simply by looking at a map. I asked: What could an alien, with no knowledge of Pittsburgh but a deep understanding of maps, determine about this city of steel and pierogies just by glancing at the street layout?

“We talk about Pittsburgh as a city of neighborhoods, and that’s really obvious as we see how each neighborhood flows—how the streets all connect to each other and [how] they are aligned,” he said. “That says a lot about how Pittsburgh was built, over rivers and gorges. And you could also infer how Pittsburghers are attached to their neighborhoods.”

If the neighborhoods are distinct, it might be because most existed as homesteads and independent boroughs long before they were parts of Pittsburgh. From the 1860s to the 1930s, the city went on an annexation binge, assimilating nearby communities and old estates like some kind of ruthless Pitts-borg. The Rust Belt metropolis expanded, from the triangle-shaped city limits extending a few miles from the point at which the three rivers meet to a great splotch that encompasses a span of hills and valleys.

This is how 65 of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods got their names. The designations of some small neighborhoods seem lost to history (probably concocted by a real estate developer or inherited from a forgotten early landowner). Particularly helpful were Pittsburgh: A New Portrait by Franklin Toker, The Names of Pittsburgh by Bob Regan, and Pittsburgh and You, a 1982 guide to neighborhoods and local amenities and attractions created by the city and still available in its original format—typewritten pages in a three-ring binder—at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

1. Allegheny (East, West and Central)

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Much of what is now the North Side cluster of Pittsburgh neighborhoods was once Allegheny City, an independent municipality named so for its place on the banks of the Allegheny River and gobbled up through a controversial annexation in 1907 that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three neighborhoods—East Allegheny, West Allegheny, and Allegheny Central—retain the Allegheny name.

2. Allentown

Joseph Allen, an English butcher, purchased 124 acres of land here in 1827.

3. Banksville

In its earliest days (the 1770s), the settlement was known as "The Experiment"—the experiment being allowing a bunch of Scots-Irish immigrants, who were viewed as industrious but not valuable to the society, to farm and mine an area that was often attacked by natives. In the late 1700s, then-owner David Carnahan split the land between his three sons. One of the sons, Alexander Carnahan (who laid out the area after the Civil War), named the town Banksville after his wife, Eliza Banks.

4. Beechview

Beechview, home of the steepest street in the U.S., is named so for its beech trees.

5. Beltzhoover

The land was once farmed by one Melchior Beltzhoover, a German immigrant.

6. Bloomfield

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This East End locale was once covered with fields of blooming flowers. George Washington, who visited the Pittsburgh area seven times, wrote of walking through “the high ground through a field of many blooms.”

7. Bluff

The home of Duquesne University and a bunch of law offices, this area has gone through a few names, including Uptown (for its proximity to downtown), Soho (named after a suburb of Birmingham, England) and Boyd’s Hill (for a guy who hanged himself here—seriously). Its current designation on city maps, Bluff, likely refers to the geological formation of the same name, a ridge that runs parallel to a shoreline. The neighborhood has a bluff-like area parallel to the Monongahela River.

8. Bon Air

In 1898, two businessmen bought a tract of land to resell and dubbed their enterprise the Bon Air Land Company, bonair being an old term meaning gentle and courteous. They picked well; today, Bon Air is one of Pittsburgh’s quietest and most suburban-seeming neighborhoods.

9. Brighton Heights

One of the main streets here is Brighton Road, named so because it leads to the borough of New Brighton (named for Brighton, England).

10. Brookline

Two corporations that bought and sold land here, the Freehold Real Estate Company and West Liberty Improvement Company, named it after the Boston suburb for an unknown reason.

11. Carrick

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A physician, Dr. John H. O'Brien, badgered the Postal Service to install a post office here. When the agency did in 1853, it let him name it along with the area it served. He chose Carrick, after his hometown of Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland.

12. Central Northside

This area was once known as the Buena Vista Tract because it was dotted by streets named after Mexican-American War generals (Taylor, Sherman, Pilson) and battles (Monterey, Palo Alto, Buena Vista). James Robinson, Jr., the mayor of Allegheny City who christened the streets, had been a general in the war. Though the Mexican War streets remain a defining part of the neighborhood, the moniker Central Northside took hold when the area was marketed to new homebuyers in the mid-20th century.

13. Chartiers

A few decades before the founding of Pittsburgh, Pierre Chartiers, a French-Indian trapper, ran a trading post here.

14. Chateau

After Route 65 cut the North Side neighborhood of Manchester in half in the 1960s, the two parts were distinct enough that the city declared the half bordering the Ohio River its own neighborhood, dubbed Chateau for Chateau Street, which was presumably named for all of the grand houses along it.

15. Crafton Heights

This is another place named after an early landowner, though sources differ on who. Most cite attorney James Craft, though one says it was Charles J. Craft, a real estate developer.

16. Duquesne Heights

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From across the Monongahela, this hillside neighborhood faces what was once Fort Duquesne, the French settlement built at the convergence of the rivers in 1754 and named in honor of Michel-Ange Du Quesne de Menneville, Marquis Du Quesne, governor of the French colonies in North America.

17. East Carnegie

The area outside this neighborhood was incorporated as the borough of Carnegie in 1894. The residents named it after Andrew Carnegie. (The steel baron donated a library, music hall, and high school in return.) Though still part of Pittsburgh, the small residential community east of it soon took on the name East Carnegie. 

18. East Hills

This hilly neighborhood is on Pittsburgh’s easternmost edge.

19. East Liberty

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Jacob Negley, son of an early settler of East Liberty Valley, laid out and named the town of East Liberty after his wife’s farm, East Liberty Valley. It was east of the other settlements in Pittsburgh, and “liberty” was farming lexicon for an area open for grazing. Old-school Pittsburghers refer to the town as "Sliberty."

20. Elliott

In 1785, mill owner and ferryboat operator Daniel Elliot was granted two tracts of land here and named them Elliot’s Design and Elliot’s Delight. No one but him, apparently, was willing to call them that, so they eventually became simply Elliott.

21. Esplen

This tiny neighborhood, a sliver on the banks of the Ohio River, has the wicked cool distinction of being built on dirt that landed there after a railroad crew used explosives to blast apart a hill that was in their way. The railroad workers who later lived here named it after Henry Esplen, an admired administrator of the nearby Thaddeus Stevens School.

22. Fairywood

This one was coined by the Pennsylvania Railroad, who built this community as a residence for workers sometime around 1900.

23. Fineview

In 1828, Flemish nuns built a school for girls here, called Mt. Alverino, and Pittsburghers began calling it Nunnery Hill, even after the school closed and the nuns vacated. Later, James Andrews, a bridge designer and associate of Andrew Carnegie, built a home here. At his urging, the City Council renamed the neighborhood Fineview for its view of downtown.

24. Friendship

This neighborhood was once home to Friendship Farm, owned by a member of the Society of Friends, a.k.a. the Quakers.

25. Garfield

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The granddaughter of John Winebiddle, who owned much land in what is now the East End, sold the area that is now this neighborhood to the city in 1867. Pittsburgh divided it into lots for sale, the first of which was purchased on the day James Garfield was buried. The first lot-buyer named it in honor of the recently assassinated president.

26. Glen Hazel

It was named for the wooded glens of hazelnut trees.

27. Greenfield

Upon the installation of streets in this area in 1878, City Councilman William Barker, Jr., dubbed it Greenfield for its lush greenery.

28. Hays

Industrialist James H. Hays opened the Hays and Haberman Mines here in 1828.

29. Hazelwood

Hazelwood, east of Glen Hazel, was named after John Wood’s estate Hazel Hill. Over time the name, taken from the hazelnut trees in the area, became Hazelwood.

30. Highland Park

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You might assume this one was named for its elevation. However, the neighborhood—as well as its eponymous public park and Highland Avenue—were named after Robert Hiland, a county surveyor who subdivided the land into plots for purchase after the Negley family sold it to the city. Perhaps someone in the Department of Public Works also thought it was named for its place atop the East End and “corrected” the spelling.

31. Homewood

William Wilkins, a judge and U.S. senator (amongst other positions), built his estate here and named it Homewood.

32. Knoxville

Rev. Jeremiah Knox was one of the first farmers here.

33. Larimer

William Larimer was one of the most prominent land speculators of the westward expansion (and the founder of Denver, Colorado). Before that, he was a general in the colonial-era Pennsylvania Militia and owner of a homestead here.

34. Lawrenceville

A popular misconception holds that this newly hip neighborhood—dubbed the Williamsburg of Pittsburgh by Gawker —was named after David L. Lawrence, city mayor and governor of Pennsylvania. Actually, Army Col. William Foster (father of Americana songwriter Stephen Foster) named it in honor of Captain James Lawrence, commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake, whose dying command of “Don’t give up the ship!” was one of the rallying cries of the War of 1812. It was appropriate for a neighborhood that housed a munitions factory that helped arm the military until it was destroyed in an explosion in 1862.

35. Lincoln–Lemington–Belmar

Several Pittsburgh neighborhoods have had more than one name. Usually, when City Hall orders a new map, one moniker is preserved and another one or two are sent to the death row of the local lexicon, sustained for only another few years by older residents. But the city generously allowed this East End area three names. Lincoln and Lemington are streets that run through it, and Belmar comes from the long-gone Belmar Racetrack.

36. Lincoln Place

This area was named by Edward Haslett, a real estate developer who bought and sold land here.

37. Manchester

via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

English immigrants settled here and in 1832 named it after the British city of the same name.

38. Marshall-Shadeland

There have been quite a few names for this neighborhood, or parts of it, but the most recent city map has narrowed it down to two. I couldn’t find the origin of Shadeland, though it likely refers to the once forest-like character of this spot. Marshall comes from Archibald M. Marshall, grocer, dry goods merchant, and landscaper who practiced several of those trades in the area.  

39. Morningside

There seems to be no record of its origin, but the name Morningside Valley, for this area’s defining geological feature, predates the neighborhood.

40. Mount Oliver

This hilltop neighborhood was named for Dr. Oliver Ormsby, son of John Ormsby, an English soldier granted almost everything that is now Pittsburgh south of the Monongahela for his role in the French and Indian War. Oliver Ormsby established a residency here that included a private racetrack.

41. Mount Washington

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If you’ve ever seen a photo of Pittsburgh’s skyline, it was probably taken from the overlook on the 600-foot, tree-covered Mount Washington. The area was originally known as Coal Hill, which was not nearly majestic enough. Sometime in the 1880s, it was redubbed Mount Washington in honor of the first president who, during the French and Indian War, stood atop it and surmised that whoever controlled the area where the rivers met controlled the whole valley.

42. New Homestead

This one was named for the neighboring borough of Homestead.

43. North Shore

Home of PNC Park and Heinz Field, the North Shore sits on the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, north of the point at which the rivers merge.

44. Northview Heights

Northview Heights took after a low-income public housing complex of the same name, completed in 1962.

45. Oakland

The home to Carlow University, the University of Pittsburgh, and a student population incapable of getting their trash into a trash bin on trash day, Oakland was named for its abundance of oak trees. It was little more than a forest until the Great Fire of 1845 caused several prominent families to look eastward for a place to rebuild their estates.

46. Oakwood

This area is also named for its oak trees.

47. Overbrook

This neighborhood was once part of Baldwin Township. Citing crummy streets and few streetlights, citizens petitioned for independence in 1919. After they broke away, they chose Overbrook as the name of the new borough, probably after the stream that runs through it. In 1930, they voted to join the city.

48. Perry North/Perry South

The Venango Path, a Native American trail leading up to Lake Erie, ran through this area. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry made use of the passageway as a supply line during the War of 1812. As a result, parts of this area went through several Perry-related names, including Perrysville and Perry Hill Top, before the city settled on Perry North and Perry South.

49. Point Breeze

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A tavern/hotel called Point Breeze, built around 1800, sat where Penn and Fifth Avenues now cross.

50. Polish Hill

In late 1800s, an influx of Polish immigrants settled here, and it was an easy walk to jobs at steel mills on the Allegheny. The neighborhood’s welcome sign still reads “Witamy Do Polish Hill.”

51. Regent Square

A tiny, idyllic neighborhood on the easternmost edge of the East End, Regent Square is the prefab creation of William E. Harmon of Harmon Realty, who coined the name. In 1919, he acquired the land here, hoping to sell to Westinghouse Electric managers and executives.

52. Saint Clair

Once, a pair of villages named after Revolutionary War General Arthur St. Clair sat side by side in Allegheny County. While Upper Saint Clair remains, Lower Saint Clair was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1920 and became the neighborhood of Saint Clair.

53. Shadyside

David Aiken (the namesake of Aiken Avenue) donated the land for the first Pennsylvania Railroad station in Pittsburgh’s East End. As a thanks, the railroad allowed him to name the station. His wife, Caroline, suggested Shadyside, apparently after a book title. The name extended to the surrounding area.

54. Sheraden

William Sheraden owned a 122-acre farm here.

55. Southshore

This ghost of neighborhood—with 19 residents, a junkyard, a dock, and a few warehouses—is a thin strip on the banks of the Monongahela, directly south of the merging of the three rivers.

56. South Side Flats/South Side Slopes

Once a slew of communities stood across the Monongahela from Pittsburgh. The largest were East and West Birmingham, named for founding landowner John Ormsby’s birthplace of Birmingham, England. When the city annexed the area in 1872, it brushed them aside and stamped the label South Side Flats on the region along the river (which now has more diners and dive bars than a Jim Jarmusch movie) and the South Side Slopes on the hillside above.

57. Spring Garden

There were once many natural springs here.

58. Spring Hill–City View

This North Side neighborhood has two official names, Spring Hill and City View, and they are both pretty literal: It’s a hill that has springs, and you can get an eyeful of the city skyline from it.

59. Squirrel Hill

Long before the founding of Pittsburgh, Native Americans hunted grey squirrels here. Now, the only hunters are Jerry’s Records customers pursuing the stacks for some old Sam Cooke.

60. Stanton Heights

The name was concocted by the Steelwood Corporation, which in 1947 purchased the land here (once a country club) and built 400 units of housing for workers. 

61. Strip District

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There were once several communities along the Allegheny River here, including Bayardstown and Croghansville, but their identities faded away once it became a hub for industry, then shipping and receiving and later electric retail. (Think a discount shoe store, a popcorn shop and an outlet for dried flowers in close proximity, because why not?) No one seems to know how the exact origin of the Strip District name, but it’s likely due to long strip of business that exists along the concurrent Penn and Liberty avenues.

62. Swisshelm Park

Swisshelm Park was named for John Swisshelm, who owned a home and gristmill here.

63. Troy Hill

One of the first inhabitants of this settlement atop a plateau overlooking the Allegheny was Elizabeth Seymore, who dubbed it The Village of New Troy, after her hometown of Troy, New York. It was shortened to Troy Hill in subsequent decades.

64. West End

This area was once called Temperanceville because founding landowner Isaac Warden didn’t allow the sale or consumption of booze. When the city annexed it in 1873, it was redubbed the West End (although that term colloquially refers to all of the hilly neighborhoods on the western fringes).

65. Westwood

Its developers, the Wood-Harmon Company, gave the neighborhood this preplanned subdivision-sounding name in the early 1900s.

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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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