Wednesday, July 29, 2009

what's in a name?

Oakland is not just a diverse city, it's geographically large. So it's no wonder there are a host of neighborhood names.

Names are wonderful things. They can give a sense of place, of history, of belonging. Of course, they can also be confusing if you don't know them. When I started driving in the Bay Area, I knew where the Nimitz Freeway was (it was part of CA-17 then), but Grove-Shafter? It makes traffic reports less useful if you have no idea what freeways they're talking about. I've learned many of them over the years. Fortunately traffic reports don't rely solely on names anymore -- which is good, otherwise you'd have to know that I-580 is the MacArthur, the John T. Knox, the Eastshore, the Arthur H. Breed Jr., and the William Elton "Brownie" Brown, depending on which section you're talking about. (Of course, if it were in southern California, it would be "the 580".)

Similarly, there are a bunch of Oakland neighborhoods that I don't know the names of. So I was delighted when Google Maps added neighborhood names. It's not perfect, as neighborhood boundaries are even more confusing and less well-defined than city boundaries, but it is a big help. It's very handy when you're looking for a restaurant or type of shop in a particular neighborhood. Yahoo! Maps goes one better, and has nice color-coded regions on the map to show the neighborhoods.

Then there's the issue of nicknames. The Hoover/Foster neighborhood is probably more widely known as Ghost Town (or Ghosttown). There are several theories on the origin of the name, from the presence of multiple casket companies to highway 24 the Grove-Shafter I-980 splitting the neighborhood and leaving it a virtual ghost town. The name also brings up the issue of spelling and punctuation. Is it Ghost Town? Ghosttown? Hoover/Foster? Foster Hoover Historic District? Foster? Hoover? (Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?) Google Maps shows it has Hoover/Foster. Yahoo! Maps shows it as Hoover (though you can search on Foster, too.) My recent sign posting suggests Foster.

So what happens when a business includes the neighborhood as part of its name? People tend to feel it's more a part of the neighborhood, more a local business, and lets people know where to find it. Unless you move, like Pill Hill Printing on San Pablo must have. It's either in Oakland, Berkeley or Emeryville, depending on which map you look at, and it's either in the Golden Gate or Paradise Park neighborhood. But it's no where near Pill Hill.

Finally, there's the question of what do the residents themselves think. I live in the Montclair neighborhood, but when people ask where I live I say Oakland. Partly because people elsewhere don't know where Montclair is, but largely out of a sense of pride in and connection to Oakland in general. (The usual chain is Oakland, near highway 13, Montclair, near where Snake and Colton cross.) Maybe I don't feel a strong connection to the neighborhood (though I love living here) because I couldn't afford it these days. But lots of people have a strong connection to their neighborhood, sometimes even after they don't live there anymore.

So what are the name(s) of your neighborhood? Do you identify with it or with Oakland more strongly?

2 comments:

Baby said...

I've always thought that we live in the Laurel, but according to Yahoo Maps and Google Maps we actually live in Upper Dimond. Hmm. We're fine with either, I suppose, since we frequent businesses in both neighborhood.

Gene said...

The Laurel is pretty small on Yahoo's map, and the Upper Laurel a bit bigger. Similarly the Dimond and the Upper Dimond. But there are some really tiny neighborhoods shown around there -- small enough Yahoo doesn't seem to be able to fit a label in them :-) Given how much is packed in the area, it's not surprising there's differing ideas of what each neighborhood is.