What’s in a name?

If you could travel back in time and ask an old time San Franciscan how to get to the Central Waterfront neighborhood, he wouldn’t know what in the world you were talking about. What we know today as the Central Waterfront or Dogpatch was known until the late 1960s as Butchertown, because, well, that part of town was full of slaughterhouses.

Which leads me to the name “Dogpatch.” Some old timers claim that the area east of Potrero Hill and bordering the Bay is called Dogpatch because packs of wild dogs used to hang out around the aforementioned slaughterhouses, eager for scraps. What a picture.

Every slice of this fair city has its own distinct neighborhood name — some more distinct than others, and some which have changed over time.

The Sunset used to be called Outside Lands, which now survives only as the name of a music festival held in Golden Gate Park each summer.

Russian Hill was so named after settlers found a small Russian cemetery atop the hill now bearing this name. And many of the city’s Russian residents now live in the Richmond, which got its name from an Australian immigrant who named the area “the Richmond House” after a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Noe Valley (named for Jose de Jesus Noe, the last Mexican alcalde [mayor] of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco) and much of the surrounding area used to be called Rancho San Miguel. Cow Hollow, now one of the swankiest neighborhoods in SF, got its name when it was home to many dairy farms, some of which relocated by the 1870s to Noe’s Rancho San Miguel. Who knew that Cow Hollow and Noe Valley were related in this way?

One neighborhood name that puzzled me for years is Little Hollywood, a tiny enclave bordered by 101, Bayshore Boulevard, and the southern boundary of the city. Now I’ve found that it is supposedly named for several silent film stars who used to live there, including Mae West. True? Not true? Either way, it makes a good story.

I’m having fun researching these names and their sources, so stay tuned for future posts about more neighborhoods and how they got their names.


  1. Drew says

    Hi Britton,

    Always love reading these articles. I can add a little bit of history: according to my grandmother, when she was a little girl, they lived in Butchertown, on what is now La Salle Avenue, but was then 12th Avenue. She told me that everyone was still upset that the Sunset had “stolen” their street names.

    I did a bit of poking around, and there’s a great article (http://www.sfhistoryencyclopedia.com/articles/s/streetNaming.html) on the great 1909 street renaming.

  2. Britton Jackson says

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for your grandmother’s story. As a resident of 3rd Avenue in the Sunset, I had no idea I was living in an area that had stolen its street names from the Bayview. The article you posted is great. I see more posts in the future about how SF’s neighborhoods and streets got their names. Thanks again!

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