Chicago Relocation

What’s in a name? Sometimes, quite a lot

April 19, 2012

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John D’Ambrogio

Perri Knight, an agent in our Goldcoast Office, recently did a great bit of sleuth work to figure out some background on our great city’s neighborhood names….

What’s in a name? Sometimes, quite a lot. Sometimes, it’s all you have to go on. We all know how important our own names are to our identities, what about the name of a place? Or a building? Naming rights to stadiums are big ticket items. As Chicagoans, we were up in arms when the Sears tower became the Willis Tower, some vowed never to use the new name at all. People associate the name of a place with how they feel about it.

Although I grew up in Cleveland, I left after high school and returned many years later to discover that natives refer to buildings in downtown by their names—not their addresses. In other words, if you have a meeting with Sue, she may tell you she in in Key Tower, or the Halle Builidng, or the Hannah Building—two names much too similar for comfort in my opinion. If you don’t know where those building are, you were in trouble. We do that in Chicago too, but most of our prominent buildings are visible in the skyline so it’s a little easier to pinpoint where you are and where you need to go.

I recently had a friend visiting from out of the country who wanted to make sure that we saw everything there was to see on the “Magic” mile. Of course, Mag Mile can be magical but “The Magnificent Mile” is the accepted moniker, coined by Arthur Rubloff. And what about the neighborhoods that define our city? Several bear names of those that lived there or helped to found the area. The land which serves as Wicker Park was donated by brothers of the same name. Logan Square honors a former congressman and Civil War hero with that name. Some neighborhood names stem from the language native to those that first settled there. Pilsen is actually a city in the Czech Republic. Bucktown—this is my favorite—got its name because the largely Polish inhabitants had a habit of keeping goats. Guess what you call a male goat? Yep, a “buck”.

When you’ve spent some time in Chicago you realize that these names don’t just describe a geographic area but most people will say they can describe who lives in each neighborhood. I’ve noticed though that people tend to stick within their neighborhoods-especially if they grew up there- so their ideas of what other areas are like and who lives there can be skewed. As a non-native Chicagoan, I’ve had the pleasure of living in several different neighborhoods and I can easily say that every single one has wonderful, unique attributes that I enjoyed while I lived there. If you are just coming to the city, do your research but most importantly, send some time out in different neighborhoods—don’t rely on one friend’s advice, no matter how well meaning. Chicago has a depth and diversity of neighborhoods that I think is unmatched and it’s worth taking the time to explore them.