Having recently made the move from the relative simplicity of Seattle, WA to the multifaceted, complex world of New York — first upstate at Hamilton College in Clinton and, for the summer, the Big Apple — like other immigrants before me, I have found myself having to learn an entirely new way of life and vocabulary.
While it took a little while to learn the names of places in my Central New York home, my mind remains perpetually boggled by the neighborhoods here in New York City. Too often it seems as if a few people strung together a random series of letters and labeled it a neighborhood. Some of these names have become famous and understandable — areas like our NYSOM home of “SoHo” (“South of Houston [Street]”) are well-defined. But others appear to be residents’ attempts to turn their neighborhood hip, like naming some area under a bridge after a Disney elephant: “DUMBO,” or “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”
The best part about these acronyms, abbreviations and portmanteaux is that the real names are often so ridiculous that poking fun at them becomes superfluous. For example, real estate developers. My current digs are located in what was once eponymous “Financial District.” But others who live in this area find that too stuffy, or perhaps too complicated, and prefer to claim that they live in “FiDi.” An area formerly part of Morningside Heights has become labeled as “SoHa,” standing for “South of Harlem,” and clearly attempting to be as hip as their downtown friends. But while these acronyms are short and sweet, developers have taken steps to rename areas with hopelessly complicated acronyms, things like: “GoCaGa,” for “Gowanus and Carroll Gardens,” or “ProCro,” for “Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.”
I am far from the only person entertained by the ridiculousness of New York’s acronym fervor. Even pop culture has taken its turn at mocking them. Two “How I Met Your Mother” characters move into the “newly hip” neighborhood “DoWiSTrePla,” only to discover that this stood for Down Wind of the Sewage Treatment Plant. In the Broadway hit “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the title character remarks on doing a show in the Meatpacking District, “You’ve heard of SoHo? NoHo? This is MePa.” Sadly, people do, in fact, use this name.
Since everyone else is having their go at making new neighborhood names I have decided to try my hand. I’ll start simple, taking the area just to the south of LaGuardia Airport, currently known as East Elmhurst, and I call it SoLaGu. Next, since Queens is now trying to be on the cutting edge, the area between Jamaica and Rochdale and named it JamRoc[k]. Moving over to Brooklyn, we can carve out a section between Williamsburg and Greenpoint as, perhaps, GrePoWiBug. And for the very adventurous, any area near the Central Park Obelisk should, of course, be known as ObAMa, for Obelisk Adjacent Manhattan.
The reality is that no matter how obscure or ridiculous a name we create, the history of New York City neighborhoods will likely prevail in the long run. The Meatpacking District retains the name despite the departure of many of the business that gave it the moniker. Hell’s Kitchen is still Hell’s Kitchen despite a desperate plea by the City and developers to change it to “Clinton.” So, before we name, let’s reflect on neighborhood history. Perhaps there is a distinct state of mind that defines “TriBeCa” and makes it more than just a “Triangle below Canal Street.”