What’s In A Name, Part Deux

In my last post I rattled off a few fake neighborhood names that should probably bite the dust, then took the final two paragraphs to dis Houstonia magazine. Enter longtime Houston Press alum John Nova Lomax, who pens a missive defending his new employer’s honor.


I feel bad for you son.

So let’s address a few of the guy’s arguments. Roughly half of them are Argumentum ad Strawmanum; Rice Military, Cottage Grove, and Eastwood are, I argued, all legit names – I just look askance at people who use them in place of more generic terms like “Washington” or “Third Ward.” Hyde Park is pretty clearly a part of Montrose. And Upper Kirby is fine – Kirby at least runs north south, so the northern segment is “up” on ye olde Key Map.

The same, however, cannot said of Westheimer. Lomax writes:

Lower Westheimer has a feel that differs slightly from its surrounding area.

Really? Westheimer and Fairview combined are the very essence of Montrose. Poison Girl, Catbirds, the Tower, Chances, Mary’s, Felix, Numbers – Montrose institutions, past and present, and all located on Westheimer. The Pride Parade is on Westheimer. The “Montrose Block Party” – in both its current, low-key incarnation and its raucuous past – has always closed many more blocks of Westheimer than the neighborhood’s namesake street. By contrast, “Lower Westheimer” mostly gets trotted out to describe the location of upscale newcomers like L’Olivier, Uchi, and Underbelly.

In fact there is a well-established pattern to neighborhood renamings. I’m usually content to leave the Social Justice Warrior stuff to tumblr, but given that Lomax calls me out twice for using “offensive language” (his head’ll explode if he ever sees this post), I feel compelled to point this out.

Neighborhoods that have been traditionally described as “Wards” are overwhelmingly majority-minority. Renamings happen when white folks move in. So when the townhomes went into “First Ward,” as commenter Rosanna pointed out on the last post, it magically became “Sawyer Heights.” Fourth Ward didn’t get renamed, but a quick perusal of HAR listings shows that its houses are only described as “in the shadow of Downtown” or “near the new Carnegie magnet school.” Contrast this with “Heights,” which infects not just the Washington Avenue corridor but also listings that are well into Spring Branch or Garden Oaks.

This was what I was getting at with the line “you too, Eastwood.” Eastwood is a real place, but it’s also part of the Third Ward. So for instance, when I mentioned to a friend of mine (who is an Eastwood homeowner) that I was looking at listings “in the Tre,” he immediately thought I was talking about his neighborhood. But other people in the comments section argued that this was not part of the Tre, that the Third Ward actually started at IH-45. Which is, you know, where the black people start.

And it’s not solely a race thing. Commenter ZAW helpfully showed up in both mine and Swamplot’s comments sections to argue for Lower Westheimer:

Tell someone you live in Montrose and they might answer “oh, that’s where the gays live… Um, are you gay?” Tell them you live in Lower Westheimer and the response is different.

This might actually explain why “Neartown” has fallen into such disuse. Three decades ago, being gay made you radioactive. Today, overt ‘bashing is generally frowned upon in polite company, and discriminatory laws – while still quite extant – are falling fast. With few left in Montrose to be ashamed of Montrose, there’s no need for a name other than Montrose.

But it gets even better. Swamplot’s comment of the week from a couple months back asked:

Am I the only one who thinks that the Wash Ave area needs one, unifying neighborhood name? I live in Magnolia Grove, but no one knows what that is, so I have to just say “Off Wash Ave” (though that implies that I moved there to be close to Wash Ave bars, which is NOT the case) … The area’s former name, ‘Smokeytown,’ should also be out for obvious reasons.

Now this I can understand. Who would want to be associated with the sort of people who frequent Washington Avenue drinking establishments? And this is a man after my own heart, looking for an overarching neighborhood name to describe the mishmash of historically-accurate plat names that make up our broad neighborhoods. Still, the way the question is phrased is instructive.

To recap, here is a list of people who white people do not want to be associated with:

-Black people
-Hispanic people
-Gay people
-Other white people

This is the driving force behind neighborhood renamings. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love white people. Some of my best friends are white. I just don’t think we need to keep renaming stuff because they don’t like what it’s already called.

Lomax asks:

So what “general neighborhood name” should these effete snobs adhere to if not Washington Heights?

Smokeytown.

13 responses to “What’s In A Name, Part Deux

  1. I like smokeytown.
    It’s cute!

  2. luciaphile

    What with you calling him “son” (!), then him calling you “son” (!), this might have been fun, but you trotted out argumentum ad caucasum, and that sucked the air out of it and it became tedious, instantly, predictably. But maybe that was your intent.

  3. It’s just like anything else, isn’t it, that changing the name of the thing changes the conversations and the perceptions about that thing. A Latino kid tagging a Dumpster in the Second Ward with “El Segundo” is very much like a white retail developer referring to Washington Heights or a blogger giving props to the Tre.

    Right? It’s about marking territory, aligning yourself with certain values, divvying up the teams, presenting an image. And it seems a little silly to me to project a private, arbitrary evaluation system — EaDo bad, Montrose good — on something so fundamental as that. Besides, who wants to build a store in “South of I-10 Strip Center Declension”? Or buy a house near “The Particulate Matter District”? Almost nothing is accurately named, and we’re all working from outdated maps and imprecise boundaries that are always changing anyway.

  4. Pingback: Fake Houston neighborhood names have got to stop - Page 4 - City-Data Forum

  5. You didn’t quote the rest of my reply to your original post. I noted that the new names are often part of a conscious effort at rebranding, which comes as a result of neighborhoods trying to shake reputations.
    .
    I pointed out efforts at rebranding Alief to be the International District. Houstonia Magazine pointed out that some people might be tempted to call the Third Ward “Chinatown” or “Old Chinatown,” – completely ignoring the real Chinatown that has developed in the International District.
    .
    (Chinatown and the rest of the International District are worth a visit, by the way – though I suspect many of your Inner Loop readers are afraid to do so).

  6. Admittedly I live in Montrose but a couple of blocks to Upper Kirby (which starts where the red signs begin west of Shep and south of W’heimer) and in the 77098 so I usually say I live in Upper Kirby. Sometime I feel guilty about this because it is the gay thing that drives it (there are probably more gay people on my block that a block in Katy but probably less than there would be in the Heights) as well as the snob factor since my home is valued north of $700,000. I am a bad person.

  7. I don’t disagree with any of your statements except…

    using the names of CURRENT super neighborhoods to label neighborhoods that specifically are not within the boundaries of that super neighborhood. It has been 100 years since wards were done away with, and calling them neighborhoods that existed within that historic ward but do not exist within the current super neighborhood is confusing. I mean, your whole purpose here is to be less confusing right?

    So are we going to call EaDo “The northern section of the Historic 3rd Ward, but not part of Greater 3rd Ward”? Because just calling it “part of the 3rd ward” is an inaccurate statement considering the fact that it does not lie within the boundaries of Greater 3rd Ward which has a northern boundary of the gulf freeway.

    I mean, you can call it whatever you like, but if you call it 3rd ward, you’ll be wrong.

  8. Upper Kirby emphatically does NOT refer to up as in north. It means up as in upscale, a word that should be permanently retire. Once I was looking at white oxford shirts and as I conversed with a woman obviously buying for the man in her life I remarked that I liked the buttoned-down oxford look. She said (importantly) that her husband didn’t wear those as he was in “upper management.” Barf.

  9. Just where in the hell did “Uptown” come from? That has to be the most useless name in Houston.

  10. A solution will be illusive as long as the city and HAR continue to use different boundaries for areas of town. Close-In Memorial is Uptown according to the city but HAR calls it Memorial.

    Bubba, Uptown is upscale to downtown and it happens to be at higher elevations than downtown. Uptown is a super neighborhood while Galleria is a mall, not a area of town.

  11. Spirit of 2001

    I typically like the “Super Neighborhood” names, except when they have slashes (Montrose/Neartown).

  12. I thought ‘The Galleria Area’ was changed to “Uptown Houston” because Gerald Hines (the guy who built and developed the Galleria Mall and much of the development around it) was suing people/businesses left and right back in the 1970′s and 80′s who were using “Galleria” in their name to describe where they were located, so “Uptown Houston” was coined as a way to describe the area and the CID who funded improvements in the area. At least that’s what the rumor was.

  13. @Zaw: Might as well be called Asiatown (like I’ve seen in the Houston Chronicle a few times) or call it Vietville (since the mass majority of businesses are more Vietnamese oriented/owned). The old Chinatown is the area east of downtown.

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