Using "the" with neighborhood names: a Bay Area thing?
August 30, 2010 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Using "the" with neighborhood names: a Bay Area thing?

So I moved to the Bay Area two weeks ago, and one thing that seems weird to me about the local language is that people use "the" before the names of neighborhoods. (In Oakland/Berkeley, I've heard "the Rockridge", "the Elmwood", "the Temescal"; in SF "the Mission", "the Castro", "the Haight", "the Sunset", "the Richmond".)

So, um, is this actually happening or is this confirmation bias? And if it is real, do you have any idea why? These feel like names to me, not descriptions, and in my (Philadelphia) English names don't work like this.

This feels somehow related to this question about why people use "the" with road numbers, but not exactly the same thing.
posted by madcaptenor to Writing & Language (52 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
confirmation bias. There's also "SoMa" and "Pacific Heights".
posted by FlamingBore at 9:59 AM on August 30, 2010

My father used to collect these. He always talked about the Bronx, which is on the wrong coast. I seem to also remember the Vatican as well.
posted by nevercalm at 9:59 AM on August 30, 2010

Oh, and in Denver my Neighborhood is "The Historic Baker Neighborhood" or "The Baker"
posted by FlamingBore at 10:00 AM on August 30, 2010

I have never heard "the Rockridge", "the Elmwood", "the Temescal". The SF neighborhoods, yeah, but never those Oakland/Berkeley neighborhoods with "the" appended.
posted by liketitanic at 10:00 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not just SF. In Toronto, we have The Junction (the finest of the neighbourhoods), The Annex, and The Bridle Path, among many others, but we also have Parkdale, Leaside, Mimico and many others.

I am not even going to get into "The Beach" versus "The Beaches". I'll let you eastern bastards fight that one out.

It seems to me that neighbourhoods that describe something tangible, like a junction of railway lines, are more likely to acquire the definite article.
posted by maudlin at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2010

I grew up in the East Bay and I've consistently used the definite article for all of the San Francisco areas you mentioned (and some you didn't: "the Tenderloin," "the Presidio"), but I've never in my life heard any of the Oakland/Berkeley combinations you mentioned.

For San Francisco I believe it's because all of those places are popularly thought of as "districts" - that is, "The Mission [District]," "The Castro [District]," etc.
posted by theodolite at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm from the East Bay and I can honestly say I've never heard the Rockridge or the Elmwood but it's been very common to hear "the" for San Francisco neighborhoods, with the above mentioned exceptions.

Have you also noticed that people use "the" for highways in southern California but not up north. Take 101 vs. take the 405?
posted by just.good.enough at 10:03 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in SF, on the border between the Mission and...Potrero Hill. Dogpatch, on the other side of the hill from me, takes no "the." And none of my friends who live around Rockridge or Temescal use "the" when referring to those neighborhoods.

I used to work in Pacific Heights, and sometimes went to lunch in...the Tenderloin.

Cow Hollow borders the Marina, which isn't far from North Beach.

So it's not all neighborhoods. Just some. Listen/read and you'll pick it up fast.
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on August 30, 2010

I neglected to mention in my above comment that "district" is often spoken as well. E.g. "Let's go get a burrito in the Mission District."
posted by theodolite at 10:04 AM on August 30, 2010

Oh, and (the) Richmond - it's good to distinguish the neighborhood in San Francisco (the Richmond) from the city on the other side of the bay: Richmond.
posted by rtha at 10:05 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't attest to all of those ("the Richmond" sounds especially weird to me), but "the Mission" and "the Castro" are definitely right. I think it's because the full name is "the Mission District," so when it's shortened, you keep the article but not the "District" part. Similarly, "the Castro" comes from "the Castro District." It's possible that the article could then get extended to neighborhoods that don't really have a "district" in their names, or maybe more neighborhoods are "districts" than I realized. (Wikipedia mentions the "Richmond District," for example, so "the Richmond" really could be a thing.)

Anyway, talking about the Mission sounds fine and normal to me, but I am also a Californian who refers to "the 405" when I talk about freeways.
posted by mandanza at 10:06 AM on August 30, 2010

I've never heard "the" being used with Rockridge, Temescal or Elmwood. In SF, "the" doesn't always precede a neighborhood name (Potrero Hill, SOMA, Nob Hill, etc.)
posted by extramundane at 10:06 AM on August 30, 2010

I'm with liketitanic: we do say 'the' for many neighborhoods, but not the east bay examples you provide. Totally weird. And I say that as a long-time resident of the Longfellow.
posted by doteatop at 10:07 AM on August 30, 2010

Confirmation bias: The Back Bay, The South End, The North End, The Financial District, The Fenway.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:12 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In French, you have to use the definite article before a noun - is it the same in Spanish? Some of the areas have large Spanish influences, like, "The Mission".

Outside of SF though, I've never heard of anyone, ever, say, "the Elmwood" - perhaps teh Internets will know more, though.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:16 AM on August 30, 2010

Oh, and in Denver my Neighborhood is "The Historic Baker Neighborhood" or "The Baker"

But that's just basic grammar - you'd use the definite article in English when you talk about anything, "historical" - or probably any adjective. You'd say, "I have an/the historical monkey butt" to talk about one monkey butt, but you could say, "I have historical monkey butts" to talk about more than one.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:19 AM on August 30, 2010

Greenwich Village is often called 'the Village.' I don't know if it counts as a neighborhood, but there's also the Strand in London. There's the French Quarter in New Orleans. And of course the Bronx, although that's not really a neighborhood per se.

St. Louis has the Hill, the Loop, and the Central West End.
posted by jedicus at 10:21 AM on August 30, 2010

The upper west side, the upper east side. But: tribeca, soho, midtown, etc.

The use of "the" varies within a particular city and across cities.
posted by dfriedman at 10:22 AM on August 30, 2010

I'd wager it's simply personal preference and whatever the current trend is.

Definite articles are optional English and the origin of the original name may play a factor in influencing what people use and what sounds good.

Another example could be, "I live in the Baker neighborhood" counter to: "I live in Five Points". "the Five Points" sounds weird, since, "Points" makes it seem like the place I live in is more than one things, where it's really one place with five things, so you just say, "Five points", instead of, "The Five Points".

Some titles are usually always used with the definite article. For example, "The President of the United States of America". But you could probably swing with, "Mayor Smalltown"
posted by alex_skazat at 10:30 AM on August 30, 2010

jedicus: "There's the French Quarter in New Orleans."

Also the Marigny, the Tremé, the Point (short for Algiers Point), et cetera.
posted by brundlefly at 10:30 AM on August 30, 2010

Seattle has The Pike Place Market.
posted by bearwife at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2010

mandanza has it: we use "the" in front of the name when the full name is the something district. "The Mission District", "The Sunset District", but not "The Noe Valley" or "The SoMa". I can't quite explain why so many SF neighbourhoods are known as districts, presumably it's the history.
posted by Nelson at 10:35 AM on August 30, 2010

I noticed the proliferation of "the" neighborhoods when I lived in San Francisco, too, and it seemed unique to SF, at least in prevalence. Neighborhoods in other cities where I've lived did not use the SF-style naming convention as far as I can recall. For example, Portland's Hawthorne, Belmont, Alameda, St. John's (etc) neighborhoods and Washington, D.C.'s Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Capitol Hill, etc.

My take was similar to other respondents here: that "the" precedes the name of a specific district, even if "district" is omitted from the full name uttered. (As in The Richmond [District] or The Sunset [District].)

It might be worth researching the origin of these districts, and checking whether they have official boundaries or administrative purposes within city and county government. It may explain why some areas don't use "the" (Potrero Hill, Noe Valley, North Beach, etc.) and other do. Perhaps only "true" districts, if there is such a thing officially, use the article. I don't know, but checking that out might answer your question.
posted by celilo at 10:36 AM on August 30, 2010

Chicago has the Loop, but I can't think of another neighborhood that gets an article -- unless you count Back of the Yards, but then you never hear it as the Back of the Yards.

And of course there's the Netherlands.
posted by me3dia at 10:40 AM on August 30, 2010

In Montreal, the Plateau is short for the plateau Mont-Royal. It's known as The Plateau in both French and English. Mile-End (depending on point of view, a sub-neighbourhood of the Plateau or it's own thing) is just Mile-End. Most other 'hoods just use their own name: Rosemont, Little Italy, Villeray, St-Henri, etc. The other exception I can think of is the area immediately to the east of the main McGill campus, which is the (McGill) Ghetto.
posted by mikel at 10:40 AM on August 30, 2010

It was definitely a thing in San Francisco proper but I can't think of many other Bay Area neighborhoods that use the "The ---" convention. Maybe the Rose Garden area of San Jose.

It doesn't seem to be the way of the Twin Cities.
posted by padraigin at 10:41 AM on August 30, 2010

I can think of a few East Bay neighborhoods that take 'the,' but they're not the ones you mention. The Berkeley (and Oakland) Hills and the Gourmet Ghetto are two.

Does El Cerrito count?
posted by zippy at 10:43 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

New York Examples:

The Upper East Side
The Upper West Side
The Bronx
The Meatpacking Disctrict
The _______ Heights
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2010

Isn't the "the" in the Mission and the Castro a result of the neighborhoods taking their names from specific landmarks? I can see the usage spreading from there to the Sunset and the Richmond etc.

I've never heard it for any East Bay neighborhoods FWIW, but I've only had 10 non-native years here.
posted by quarterframer at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2010

Les Halles, Le Sentier, Le Marais, La Villette -- Paris.
posted by trip and a half at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2010

Pittsburgh has The Hill and The Strip — a.k.a. "the Hill District" and "the Strip District," so there's another example of the sort of thing mandanza is talking about.

It's also got the usual assortment of directional names ("The South Side," "The East End," etc.), but that seems pretty unremarkable.

(Although, come to think of it, here in Austin you don't say "The South Side." It's "South Austin." So even on directional names, the definite article isn't completely universal.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2010

In Houston, if you say "the Montrose" as opposed to simply "Montrose" it marks you as having lived there before about the mid-Eighties. No one calls it "the Montrose" anymore.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2010

I can't attest to all of those ("the Richmond" sounds especially weird to me)

"The" is mandatory when referring to the Richmond neighborhood, to clarify that you're not talking about the city north of Berkeley in the East Bay.
posted by rkent at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2010

Much smaller city, here (Burlington, VT) that uses "the" with neighborhoods. We've got the old north end, the south end, the new north end, the intervale, the hill section, and the five sisters.
posted by brand-gnu at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2010

To people who have mentioned things like "the Berkeley hills" and "the Gourmet Ghetto" -- these kind of sound like descriptions to me, not names. These feel to me like saying "the United States", whereas the examples that I gave in the original post feel like saying "the Canada".
posted by madcaptenor at 11:20 AM on August 30, 2010

Any directional will probably be prefixed with a The– (The Upper East Side, The Southside), same with places that double as generic words (The Village, The Bay, The Heights. I believe this is because the definite article removes confusion. The exceptions are fascinating, though. Why the Bronx but not the Long Island? Like you would ever get the Bronx mixed up with some other Bronx.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2010

Civil_Disobedient: see Wikipedia's article History of the Bronx. Some people think the reason for the "the" is the Bronx River. (Although not all things named after rivers take "the" -- lots of states. Perhaps more relevant is that you don't say "the Harlem", although the river might be named after the former village there instead of vice versa.) Some other people think it comes from "the Broncks", the family who used to live there.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:58 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also think that Spanish place names are more likely to use a definite article and in many cases California place names are just a translation of the earlier Spanish.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2010

Berkeley dweller here to chime in that it's usually "Rockridge," and "The Elmwood." Temescal never used to be much of a district until the housing boom, and then it was just "Temescal," however, I've started to hear people new to the area calling it "The Temescal" - which I blame on real estate agents.

Usually if you hear a "the" in the name of the neighborhood, it's because that name is appended with the word "district." So.... Rockridge, Elmwood District (the Elmwood), Temescal District (the Temescal), Mission District (the Mission), etc.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2010

Well, in that case, why are there so many "Districts" around here?
posted by madcaptenor at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2010

It's districts. Neighborhoods in San Francisco: the "the" neighborhoods are districts. the Mission [District], the Richmond [District], the Sunset [District], the Marina [District], the Haight [/Ashbury District], the Castro [District]. The Financial District is called "the Financial District." (The Richmond and the Sunset are sometimes collectively referred to as "the Aves" because the streets are avenues.)

I don't know if this is where the districts came from, but San Francisco was divided into six military districts after the 1906 earthquake. Sanitary districts and civil sections were later established with the same boundaries. Since the "the" names for districts don't correspond to the supervisorial districts, maybe they came from the military districts.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2010

mikel: The (Gay) Village, The Point, The West Island (that's a stretch) - The Main? - at least two different tough parts of Montreal are sometimes called The Bronx (there's one in Lasalle and one in Montreal North, at least), The Glen. The Tanneries. I'm probably missing some.

Most aren't directly named after a street, though.
posted by zadcat at 1:56 PM on August 30, 2010

The only East Bay examples I can think of would be more nebulous terms like "The Oakland/Berkeley/San Leandro Hills" or "The Flatlands" and maybe "The Lake" to refer to the Lake Merritt area.
posted by ryaninoakland at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2010

Chicago also has Le Claire Courts in addition to The Loop. That might be a stretch, though.
posted by cmoj at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2010

In Ottawa we have a neighborhood known as The Glebe.
posted by fso at 6:56 PM on August 30, 2010

In Providence smaller neighborhoods are referred to without a definite article, except for The Jewelry District, so that's another data point.
posted by Kattullus at 8:06 PM on August 30, 2010

In New Orleans, we say the Treme for Faubourg Treme, the Marigny for Faubourg Marigny, all the original suburbs seem to use the. We say the Quarter for the French Quarter, and for wards, it's the ninth ward or even the lower nine. We speak of the Garden District, but Uptown which is just as defined as the others has no the, the University District does, but adjacent Black Pearl, Carrollton (once a separate city), Lakeview, Gerttown, Hollygrove, and Gentilly never do. I can't discern a rule for it here, apparently you just have to learn. The street names make more sense, weird as some are.
posted by Anitanola at 10:04 PM on August 30, 2010

Well, in that case, why are there so many "Districts" around here?

Ummmm....Because there are? That's pretty rhetorical, yes?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:04 AM on August 31, 2010

In some of these cases the article is used to make a clear distinction between the neighborhood and the street which runs through it. Thus "The Castro" and "Castro St.", "The Mission" and "Mission St.". You would say "I am going to the Mission." but you would say "Take a left on Mission." It is sort of like "The Bowery" vs. the street which runs through it, in NYC.

That may have been how it started since the Mission and the Castro are old neighborhoods. It is hard to find consistency after that. Why "The Tenderloin" but not "The Dogpatch"? Neither of them is a district.
posted by vacapinta at 2:47 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thinking about it, Dogpatch is a great example. It has always been known simply as Dogpatch. The wikipedia article on it has the correct usage.

But, unsurprisingly I suppose, you will find people refer to it incorrectly as The Dogpatch. It is becoming article-ized.
posted by vacapinta at 4:58 AM on August 31, 2010

Straight Dope on the Bronx.

Pittsburgh has the Hill District. You occasionally hear it referred to as the Hill, but not often, because there are several other "hill" neighborhoods. There's also the Strip (District), the South Side, the North Side. The North and South sides were at one time independent cities, which may play a role.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:41 AM on August 31, 2010

You pretty much always hear the Hill District referred to as "The Hill". Other hill neighborhoods are "adjective Hill", such as "Polish Hill", "Spring Hill", etc., or something else entirely ("Mount Washington", "Garfield Heights", "Perry Hilltop").
posted by FlyingMonkey at 6:06 AM on September 29, 2010

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