What’s in a name?

I’ll probably get back to my regular blogging after Labor Day. But I wanted to start blogging about a topic I keep coming back to and that is neighborhood names. Part of the problem is I’m not from Washington, DC. A lot of us aren’t from the District. And some few natives I have known, hailing from other parts of the city aren’t necessarily familiar with all parts of town. Armed with ignorance and unencumbered with any childhood attachment of names, we get into petty squabbles of if where Bloomingdale ends and Eckington begins and if Bloomingdale is a part of Eckington at all.
Why does it matter?
When I went home to Florida and when I started looking to buy property I noticed that place names aren’t uniformed or well known or even written in stone. Some time back my mother said we lived on Tucker Hill. Which, when she told me this was news to me. It was the name of a cemetery not too far from the house. But not the name of the cemetery closer to the house. When I was looking for property close to my mother Tucker Hill was not a neighborhood search term. It was ‘West something’. When I checked the municipality’s property tax website, it was ‘West something else’. The only commonality was it began with ‘West’.
Growing up it seems that everyone just used landmarks and street names as neighborhood identifiers. You lived over there by that elementary school, the library, or on this street near the old Winn-Dixie. And it helps to know that the vacant box strip-mall was a Winn-Dixie in the first place. Friends in cul-de-sac neighborhoods hardly referred to where they lived by the developer’s name. Turkey-Pine-Willow-Creek-Run-Farm all sounds alike after awhile. It was just the sign you turn at. There were a few developments, retirement villages whose names wound up describing whatever happened to be near it. But those were the few, everything else, 50th St near the Publix out on Pine.
So I come here and I live hear in the District. The DC tax website says I live in Old City. The mid-20th century urban renewal projects of the National Capital Planning Commission say I live in Northwest and later the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. Efforts in the 80s by the District government describe the particular area where I currently live and where they then were selling properties is Truxton Circle. There was a circle in the early 20th century. It’s gone now. It’s parts rotting in a park elsewhere. There was a post office of that name. That went away in the 60s or 70s. Google and several other maps and some DC Planning brochures currently call it Truxton Circle. Then came the eight Wards in the 70s and Shaw got divided by four wards, most of Shaw is in Ward 2. I’m in Ward 5. Somehow a small block group grew from Bates Street and it now describes the northern part of Truxton as the Bates Area Civic Association.
Dunbar High School on New Jersey Avenue looms over the neighborhood. You can see the top of this tall ugly prison-like building from the corner of Florida and North Capitol. And I am near it, so I concede on that point that Dunbar could be a description of the neighborhood, as in ‘near Dunbar’. It’s tall enough and takes up enough acreage to be a landmark. Yeah, there was a nicer looking Dunbar, and a more notable Dunbar before the current building, but that’s gone. And it is so close to several other schools, Cook (no e), Armstrong, Slater and Langston.
So where do I live? Old City? Ward 5? ANC 5C? Truxton? Shaw? Bates? Northwest? Over by New Jersey near Dunbar? All of the above.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. At the last ANC 2C meeting, there was a long back and forth between Chairwoman Doris Brook and Office of Planning staff regarding their "Mount Vernon Square District Project" (http://www.planning.dc.gov/planning/cwp/view,A,1423,Q,647286.asp). The project focuses on the area between 5th and 11th Street NW and between K and M Streets NW, in other words, the streets within 2 blocks of the square. Chairwoman Brooks objected to the name of the project as the "Mount Vernon District," possibly because she regards herself as living in Shaw and, as an M Street resident, this designation (albeit for transportation planning purposes) would put her in MVS. I'm not sure what else the project ought to be called other than, maybe, the SBRC District (South of the Big Red Cloud). There was no alternative name offered.

  2. I dont see what C. Brooks conflict would be, the border of Shaw is M street (she lives on the north side). So the study is clearly Mt. Vernon & she lives in both. yahoo!

    So true every area has a bjillion names, its hard to keep them straight. Borderstan, east dupont, strivers section…

    ah Dunbar…the slowly crumbling behemoth. did i hear a rumor there were plans to tear it down? please let it be true. the kids deserve so much better.

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