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For a while, Georgetown was "West Washington"

Businesses and residents of the neighborhood near Nationals Park can't decide whether to call it Navy Yard or Capital Riverfront. If Georgetown is any precedent, then the newer Capitol Riverfront name won't stick, at least not forever. While a new name might stick around for a little while, eventually people are drawn back to historic names.

Undated map of West Washington (formerly Georgetown) from the Library of Congress.

Georgetown preexisted the District of Columbia by 50 years. After the formation of the District, Georgetown remained an independent city within the new capital, but it lost its charter in 1871 and merged with the city and county of Washington. Ever since, there have been no independent municipalities in DC.

In 1878, Congress revoked DC's limited democracy and imposed an appointed commissioner system that lasted until 1967. In doing so, Congress redubbed Georgetown as "West Washington".

Despite the fact that Georgetown had existed so long as an independent city and only dissolved 7 years prior, people gave a genuine go at using the new name. Throughout the 1880's, the Washington Post is full of society notes not from Georgetown, but West Washington.

This new name was consistently used well through the 1890's and into the first decade of the 20th century. But by the teens, its usage appears to have trailed off. By the 1920's, the only place you'll find references to "West Washington" was in the name of the Baptist church at 31st and P streets NW.

Originally the Baptist Church of Georgetown, it changed its name to West Washington Baptist Church in 1899. It held on to this name all the way until 1955, well after Georgetown returned as the primary neighborhood name. The change back was probably inspired by the bicentennial of the neighborhood, when nostalgia broke out in the form of beer and preservation boards.

The lesson? It might take a while, but if Georgetown is any guide, Navy Yard will eventually win out.

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and daughter in Georgetown.  


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Hey does this now mean we can return NoMa to Swampoodle or even West Near Northeast? :-))

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

It really depends. Bombay was on the out in favor of Mumbai until the government went and changed the name officially. Now anyone with any style or education goes for Bombay.

by Richard B on Jul 24, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

"While a new name might stick around for a little while, eventually people are drawn back to historic names."

Some of us have been waiting for people to get over this whole "Washington" fad for the past couple of centuries, and go back to calling it by its proper name, "the Georgetown-Alexandria metropolitan area."

by Mike on Jul 24, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

Rename it Capitol Riverfront but we can keep calling it Navy Yard. That way we can tell who is local and who is not. It'll be an initiation kind of thing. Like the rest of the country calls us "Washington" (Washington is a state in the Northwest) but we consider ourselves from "DC".

by dc denizen on Jul 24, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

In New York, Avenue of the Americas is still Sixth Avenue even though the name was changed in 1939.

by Ben Ross on Jul 24, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

In New York? Surely, you mean in New Amsterdam.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 24, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

"DC" is so, well, Marion Barry.

by Alf on Jul 24, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

I humbly suggest, as mentioned elsewhere, that people usually default to whatever is easiest to say, that generally being the fewest syllables.

by Alan B. on Jul 24, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

I can definitely see people favoring "Navy Yard" over "Capital "Riverfront," but Swampoodle instead of NoMa. I can't be the only one that thinks the name Swampoodle just sounds ground. I mean, it has the word swamp in it. Unless there's a better historical name out there, then NoMa is the best name we have.

by Petworth dude on Jul 24, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

The problem is that the Navy Yard refers to an actual location whose entrance is rather far away from the Navy Yard Metro station (and accompanying neighborhood).

They should have just called the neighborhood "Riverfront."

by andrew on Jul 24, 2013 10:58 am • linkreport

(Also, like many others have said, renaming NoMa as Swampoodle is a misappropriation. The area around the Metro station would have never been considered to be a part of Swampoodle.)

by andrew on Jul 24, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

Yes which part of the DC riverfront constitutes "Capitol Riverfront," anyway? Hence the confusion. And for this area why are they using the word "Capitol" which refers to a Capitol building only, and not "Capital" which refers to all other meanings of the word? I hope they don't rename the Navy Yard-Ballpark metro station to Capitol Riverfront-Ballpark!!!

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport can your headline be correct when Georgetown predates the city of Washington?

by Kevin on Jul 24, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

I'd take Swampoodle over NoMa any day. NoMa just tries to replicate New York too hard.

by Alan B. on Jul 24, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

1. I agree with Andrew, that that creates confusion. Navy Yard was the name of the area when Navy Yard, and residences for Navy Yard workers, was pretty much all that was in the area.

2. Capitol Riverfront is too long. hence, CapRiv. Of course the riverfront referred to is the north bank of the Anacostia, from S Cap to the ll st bridge. Are there other riverfronts? sure. There are lots of areas North of Massachusetts avenue that are nowhere near Union Station. Petworth, for example. Does that cause confusion when people refer to NoMa?

3. OTOH, Near Southeast just trips off the tongue, and it not only tells you where it is, but it also makes clear that while that street address in your hand says "southeast" this is NOT the part of Southeast you are afraid to go to. That Near Southeast implies parts of southern Capitol Hill also, is a bonus.

by MStreetDenizen on Jul 24, 2013 11:08 am • linkreport

Maybe South NoMa can be returned to it's original name of Swampoodle, but then what would we do with North NoMa? ;-)

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport


The BID could sponsor cello concerts.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 24, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

"I'd take Swampoodle over NoMa any day. NoMa just tries to replicate New York too hard." - that or SoHo.

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

Title is incorrect:

Before and after it was West-Washington, it was Georgetown.
Renaming does not always work.
West-Washington example of failed renaming.

by Jasper on Jul 24, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

When my great-great-great grandfather lived there, it was Georgetown.

by Crickey7 on Jul 24, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Even Google Maps shows it as Near Southeast, but someone gave its boundaries as those of Navy Yard:

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

"Some of us have been waiting for people to get over this whole "Washington" fad for the past couple of centuries, and go back to calling it by its proper name, "the Georgetown-Alexandria metropolitan area.""

Don't you mean Georgetown-Belhaven Metro Area?

Or maybe Falls Church Metro Area?

by Another Nick on Jul 24, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

google also referred to us as washington dc, dc for a very long time. I still see it in certain google products.

by guest1 on Jul 24, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

I like Near Northeast far better than Capitol Hill North, Atlas District or SoFlo (UGH). For better or worse, I also think NoMa is going to stick for a number of reasons, including that it's a much shorter name than Near Northeast, and is so distinct from the rest of NN. OTOH I wouldn't object it being retaken by Near Northeast :-D

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

NoMa may not have had a residential character before. At any rate it's even a non-descriptive name. NoHo and SoHo in NYC are immediately north and south of Houston, a fairly short street. Mass Av is maybe 10 miles long and most of DC is North of Mass.Av. It would be like naming a neighborhood in NYC "East of Broadway" or "West of Broadway". (Of course there is "Eastside" and "Westside").

But, for better or worse, NoMa seems to be a done deal.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 24, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

Swampoodle shown by walking directions (minus the missing portion of G thru Union Station), with NoMa shown by a dashed line:

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

Oops here is Swampoodle according to Wikipedia:

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I agree the title is a bit confusing. (Our fault, not Topher's). I've changed it.

by David Alpert on Jul 24, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

Or SoNoMa, in which case you might as well go back to Swampoodle. I just hope we don't get an East NoMa - ENoMa - which looks and sounds too much like enema :-))

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

SoNoMa would just be perfect for wine and cheese parties.

do the young people still have wine and cheese parties? Or is it all designer cocktails and edamame now?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 24, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

I think it is time we stop dividing ourselves and call the whole metro area, from Manassas, VA to Aberdeen, MD the Balwash.

by Richard B on Jul 24, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

Actually, for a while there it was West Cougar Washington - because the record company thought it would be easier to market.

by David C on Jul 24, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

We seem to have somewhat porous boundaries for lots of neighborhoods. Besides Rock Creek, Anacostia River, the Capitol streets and 16th, I can think of a lot of "universal" borders everyone agrees on. Partly I think Metro station naming is one root of the issue.

by Alan B. on Jul 24, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. - Yes, that was one of the points raised in the recent Uline Arena discussion - that neighborhood boundaries are usually social constructs and therefore tend to have nebulous boundaries depending on who you are talking to. Some neighborhoods more so than others. The comments here so far bear this out :-)

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

@Kevin, @Jasper: The title is correct. The neighborhood was originally Georgetown, then West Washington, then back to Georgetown. So it was West Washington "for a while", as the title says.

by alurin on Jul 24, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

alurin: That's because I fixed the title after their comments.

by David Alpert on Jul 24, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

Please give Swampoodle a rest. The neighborhood, I understand, was largely buried by Union Station and the tracks, wasn't it?

Awareness of that name among the cool crowd seemed to explode after that show at the old Uline, but I don't think locals used it anymore before then.

Interesting to see how these things ebb and flow. Atlas District seems (blessedly) to be losing out to plain old H-Street.

I'm in "Near Northeast," and when I moved there five years ago, one didn't hear many people referring to that name. It seems to have come back pretty strongly. More called it (mostly jokingly) SoFlo five years ago. Developers at the turn of the last century, I understand, may have actually called it "Capital Hill North" which is funny.

In the case of NoMa, I think it will stick. The developers have frankly earned the right to name the neighborhood because there was no neighborhood before they built it.

by Boris on Jul 24, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Navy Lt. John A. Dahlgren would have nothing to do with this momentary consultant-driven meme of Capital Riverfront.

by John Muller on Jul 24, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

Though I'm not entirely sure they encompass the same areas, I much prefer "Old City" to "Near Northeast" or "Capitol Hill North." Having a neighborhood name that isn't immediately helpful in orienting people searching for apartments on Craigslist may not have a measurable impact on my rent, but every little bit helps.

by tdballo on Jul 24, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

@Boris - Why? Swampoodle is a more interesting name than NoMa.

by DaveG on Jul 24, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

So, unless I'm mistaken, based on DaveG's map above, the only section of Swampoodle that's still residential is the strip of K St between Gonzaga and First St NW. None of the rest is residential.

by Craig on Jul 24, 2013 11:57 pm • linkreport

Lets not become so jaded, that we think six syllables in two words is too long to describe Capitol Riverfront. CapRiv is so much an utterance of the Tweet geneation. "Capitol" is the reference to the building and it's grounds, and is overused in the area (i.e. Capitol Hlll, Capitol South metro station, or Capitol View and Capitol Heights, which are much farther than the riverfront from the building), but we do need a name for the area ceded by the Navy Yard to build the riverfront. Navy Yard is a Metro inspired moniker given to the area that used to be the grounds right over it's location. The Navy Yard location is not near enough to the station to warrent that name anymore, unless we name the area Navy Yard Riverfront in honor of the military post. If the Archive should ever be relocated, we'd still call the area Penn Quarter. So back to square one, what to call the place? Riverfront is too similar to Waterfront in SW, and is not indicitive of an up and coming neighborhood. Maybe that location should change their name to The Wharf eventually; a more fitting description. The "Capitol" in front of it's location, "Riverfront," is a fitting try by the area BID. If the neighborhood doesn't think it fits, they're free to try to legislate something else.

by Dave B on Jul 25, 2013 3:27 am • linkreport

In honor of little Prince George, how about if Georgetown makes the cute little price their honorary ruler?

by AndrewJ on Jul 25, 2013 5:47 am • linkreport

It wasn't all that long ago that Prince Charles visited an urban farm in DC:

I tried to get a Google Map link showing Wikipedia's Swampoodle boundaries and the NoMa BID at the same time but couldn't. To do that, use my Google link from above:

Then do a map search for "NoMa Washington, DC" to get that layer also. It's very interesting to see how they compare. You can also see how nebulously most people will view NoMa's boundaries outside what I consider its core which is bounded by the railroad tracks, Union Station, MA Ave, North Capitol St, NY Ave & FL Ave.

by DaveG on Jul 25, 2013 7:07 am • linkreport

Is it just me or does SoFlo sound like a brand name for a toilet?

by DaveG on Jul 25, 2013 7:48 am • linkreport

As a proud small-r republican and hater of all monarchies, I prefer to believe that Georgetown was named after its founders George Gordon and George Beall, not King George.

by Topher Mathews on Jul 25, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

You can also see how nebulously most people will view NoMa's boundaries outside what I consider its core which is bounded by the railroad tracks, Union Station, MA Ave, North Capitol St, NY Ave & FL Ave.

The boundaries of NoMa shown in Google Maps look to be what the boundaries of the BID are.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

I'm curious, how exactly did the H Street area get the alternative name "Old City"? Was it developed fairly early compared to the rest of the L'Enfant city? I would have thought that Capitol Hill, and other areas closer to the Capitol and White House, would be older. Also, I imagine the "Near Northeast" moniker mustn't have applied to the entire H Street corridor back when the city ended at the Starburst?

by Fran on Jul 25, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

This is very interesting--thanks Topher. I'd known that G'Town was a distinct city but never heard it referred to as West Washington.

As for Mumbai, Richard B, city names have been changed across India since '47, mostly back to names that had been rendered phonetically by the British. However, the Bombay to Mumbai name change came from right wing Hindu nationalists who want to firm up the political power of Marathi- and Gujarati-speaking populations. There is major anti-immigrant fervor in Mumbai as well--anti-immigrant meaning non-Marathi or non-Gujarati speakers, often very poor from the north and south. The same group sought to outlaw the term "Bollywood" (not only because it was viewed as too western and anti-Indian conservative family values--but because secular Indian Muslims are well-represented in the Bollywood elite). So when groups, most often intellectuals and people in the film industry, refuse to use the Mumbai name it is not to be hip or sophisticated but more like a small act of resistance against the right wingers and for a cosmopolitan and open Bombay/Mumbai.

by East Bank DC on Jul 25, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

@MLD yes the Google Map boundaries of NoMa are the same as the official BID boundaries. I was referring to how most people unofficially view the borders of NoMa. Regarding the core area as I defined it, I think most people will have their own opinions.

by DaveG on Jul 25, 2013 9:30 am • linkreport

There's no way H St is old city. The closest thing we have to an old city would be Georgetown.

by Alan B. on Jul 25, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

I believe that "Old City" refers to the fact that Near Northeast is part of the original L'Enfant city (south of Florida Ave. and between the Potomac & Anacostia Rivers and Rock Creek). Now, why that name applies only to that portion of the original city, I do not know. Maybe it was platted with that name?

H Street is an appropriate name for the commercial area along, well, H Street NE, which is also the main street of Near Northeast.

I also have no problem with the names Southwest Waterfront and Southeast Riverfront for those neighborhoods. As distinct from the Navy Yard itself. Capitol/Capital Riverfront seems a little too pretentious for me.

by DaveG on Jul 25, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

Alan B.: Housing on Capitol Hill and downtown Anacostia is as old as much of that in Georgetown. I concur with DavidG. Old City was the northernmost boundary of the L'Enfant Plan, with Florida Ave. (aka Boundary Road) as the northern boundary. An urban historian once told me the area came to be called "Old City" due to immigrant enclaves in the area, but I am not sure how accurate that is. I've seen "Old City" on maps as recent as five years ago.

by East Bank DC on Jul 25, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

I always call that area east of Navy Yard "JDLand".

by David C on Jul 25, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

I don't know anyone who calls DCA "Reagan". Everyone stills says "National".

by A Rose by Any Other Name on Jul 25, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

Why JDLand?

by DaveG on Jul 25, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

by David C on Jul 25, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

Even NoMa has it's very own Capitol - the BID offices at 1200 1st St NE :-))

by DaveG on Jul 26, 2013 6:30 am • linkreport

We should be calling Arlington and Old Town 'West DC'

One day, we'll be restore DC. One day

by wr on Jul 28, 2013 9:15 am • linkreport

Georgetown was rebranded (the right word) as West Washington after it was absorbed into the city of Washington, at which point the entire district began being governed as the District of Columbia. This is an example of renaming/rebranding a neighborhood as a social construct for the purposes of making everyone feel that Georgetown was now a part of the city of Washington, if you will.

by DaveG on Jul 29, 2013 5:17 am • linkreport

Just to cover all the bases, WeNoMa (West NoMa) sounds like a place in Minnesota or Wisconsin :-))

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

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