Demi Moore’s real name is Demetria Guynes. I only mention it to prove that branding does actually matter, and why would neighborhoods be any exception? Renaming neighborhoods isn’t a new thing in the District; Columbia Heights was originally known as “Pleasant Plains” or “Cowtown.” (The latter being arguably the worst neighborhood name I’ve ever heard, ever.) And “NoMa” was only invented a few years ago, but we’ll get to that below.
As the tide of development (or gentrification, if you prefer) rolls unabated over the District, there’s now a perpetual race to see which neighborhood is next in line for the money faucet. Having a cool name could be the difference between young married couples fighting to pay $100K over your asking price, or those same couples sitting in a bar and saying, “I don’t care how great the houses are, I’ll live in my car before I move somewhere called ‘Cowtown.'” Let’s look at some DC neighborhoods that might benefit from a rebranding.
Colonial Village/Colony Hill
Does anyone here want to stand up and defend colonialism? Didn’t think so. In our political climate, this is the kind of neighborhood name you have to say really fast with a sort of pleading, apologetic expression on your face. Why even give people the excuse to roast you? Just imagine going to a party and, when people ask where you live, telling them you live in “Sexism Heights.” Or “the Genocide District.” You’re just bumming people out, man.
For years, people joked that soon there wouldn’t be any Chinese people left in Chinatown, but then the joke became reality. The last Chinese grocery store closed in 2005, and with the owners of Museum Square putting the heat on their tenants (75% of whom are of Chinese descent), we are looking at a very near future in which the name “Chinatown” is ironic or, worse, tragic. The rebranding is already happening on the sly, with the city increasingly calling the area “Gallery Place,” but it’s going to be hard to get away from “Chinatown” with that huge arch sitting there. But, demographic realities aside, the optics of tearing it down would be terrible. You know the city is just praying that a tornado or something will knock it over and do their dirty work for them.
Accurate, I guess, but somewhat misleading. I mean, the public can’t even go to the actual naval yard. Before I went there, I pictured a bustling area of drunken mustached sailors in white bell bottomed uniforms stumbling around and occasionally throwing each other through the plate glass windows of speakeasies, but then I went there and it was just another neighborhood with generic sports bars and condos. Maybe that could be its new name: “Just Another Neighborhood Full of Sports Bars and Condos.”
You know, as portmanteaus go, “NoMa” isn’t bad; it rolls off the tongue just as well as “Soho,” and miles better than “CoHi.” (I still think that one was a joke that somehow caught on.) The main reason I think it should be changed is that the original name is so good. “Swampoodle.” Just saying it out loud makes you smirk. It sounds like a character from Harry Potter. Sure, I can see why they used “NoMa” to get the area off the ground; when you’re building a neighborhood from scratch, you need a name that sounds streamlined and legit to attract the big money. But now that it’s established – and maybe even plateaued – maybe they could get a little PR bump from “rebranding” it as Swampoodle?
This swanky Upper Northwest neighborhood doesn’t really need any boost to its home values, but imagine how much more prestigious it would be if it had a name that didn’t sound like a vaudeville pirate or a fat talking bear from a 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon. And it goes without saying that there are no woods here.
Southwest Federal Center
Did you know this was a real neighborhood? I didn’t. This is hands down the laziest neighborhood name I’ve ever heard. This is like calling your neighborhood “Residential Area” or something. I’m literally shaking my head right now. This is like when people name their cat “Kitty.” You can do better, people. (Mostly because you literally can’t do worse.)
3 NEIGHBORHOOD NAMES THAT SHOULD *NOT* BE CHANGED
I know, you’re thinking, why would they change that name? But with Anacostia home values skyrocketing, you know major changes are coming. Couldn’t you seem some well-meaning but uninformed BID or someone thinking the name Anacostia has too much baggage, and trying to rebrand it as “Riverfront Panorama Heights” or something? I guarantee you that there are powerful people discussing this right now. Don’t do it, powerful people. Anacostia is a totally unique name that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the world.
Considering it’s adjacent to NoMa, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the powers-that-be might be considering a rebranding, especially considering some of the name’s associations. Maybe something like West NoMa, or better (worse) yet, WeNoMa? Again, though, like Anacostia, it’s a totally unique name, and should be preserved, even though, yes, it does sound like the name of a Jamaican drug lord in a James Bond movie.
This tiny neighborhood is on the very very east edge of the District, and no one would probably bother trying to change the name, but I just wanted to make sure. You have to admit, it has a vaguely absurd, overly literal ring to it that’s kind of appealing.