Dear PoP – Who was Otis Street, NW Named for?

Photo courtesy of AOK Library & Gallery, UMBC

“Dear PoP,

Do you happen to know who “Otis Street, NW” is named after?

My kids go to E.L. Haynes on Otis Street, so that’s how it came up. In discussions among parents, we found many exceptional people named Otis. There were some of our suggestions.

James Otis, Jr. 1725 – 1783 was an early patriot who coined the phrase “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny” D.C.’s motto, I think.

Bass Otis (July 17, 1784 – Nov. 3, 1861), was a famous early American artist, inventor, and portrait painter.

Harrison Gray Otis (October 8, 1765 – October 28, 1848), was an important Federalist and member of congress.

Another Harrison Gray Otis,(February 10, 1837 – July 30, 1917) was a civil war general and hero.

Other suggestions:

Otis B. Driftwood was the famous Groucho Marx character who said, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

Finally, one person suggested Otis Redding, the soul singer.”

Hmm, if I were to guess I’d say James Otis, Jr. but if I were to dream I’d say Otis Redding? Any historians out there know for real? Saf? Folks from Cultural Tourism? Anyone?

Just out of curiosity were any other famous Otis names left out of the list?

29 Comment

  • Milo and Otis

  • Saint Otis, patron of elevator operators . . .

  • Otis Spunkmeyer

  • There’s a great book that’s been out of print for about a decade, called George Washington Never Slept Here: The History of Street Names in Washington, D.C. that I would recommend. There are a few copies floating around in DCPL, according to their card catalog. It’s always grossly overpriced as used.

  • It’s Districtese from the orginal “Oh dis street.” As in “This here area look familar, but I can’t place it… Oh dis street.” Same origin for “Oh dis place.”

    Not dissimilar from Hoosier.

  • It was originally Otis-my-man Street – but they shortened it to fit into the 2-syllable alphabetical thing.

  • Miss Otis (of the regrettable variety).
    Otis, my black Lab/Newfie mix

  • I’m surprised that it took y’all 5 historical and obscure Otises before somebody mumbled “oh yeah, there was this Otis Reading guy, I think.”

    • ah

      Maybe because they realized he probably came after the street was named?

      I’d put my money on either the congressman or the Civil War hero.

      I’m pretty sure the DC license plate motto was still “Celebrate and Discover” when James Otis was around.

      • then why bring him up at all if that was their criteria? if the task is ‘think of some famous Otises’, he’s the first on my list.

        • its called an aside.
          he was probably not mentioned first because its not all that serious of a suggestion.its pretty rare for anyone to name a street after a first name. it would not have been considered much of an honor. full names are more common that just first names.

          you like moaning about stuff, huh?

  • It’s actually part of a line from an old colonial song about Washington:

    “O, Tis George Washington who makes the ladies swoon with his syphilis stick”

  • Otis Campbell, the town drunk of Mayberry and ancestor to the intoxicated denizens that now inhabit the corner of Otis and 14th.

  • Could it be Otis Blake, aka Bad Blake from the book and movie Crazy Heart?

  • Possibly named after Michigan’s Offender Tracking Information System.

  • A 1993 book called “George Washington Never Slept Here: The History of Street Names in Washington, DC” lists James Otis in the index, but the Amazon preview doesn’t show the page for that street. At any rate, James Otis sounds like a pretty safe bet.

  • Otis the Bedbug?

  • Yes, Miss Otis was left of the list.

    Music by Cole Porter and sung by Nat King Cole and Bette Midler

    —“Miss Otis Regrets”—

    Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, Madam.

    Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.
    She is sorry to be delayed,
    But last evening down in Lover’s Lane she strayed.
    Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

    When she woke up and found, that her dream of love was gone.
    She ran to the man who had lead her so far astray.
    And from under a velvet gown,
    She drew a gun and shot her lover down.
    Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

    When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail.
    They strung her from the old willow cross the way.
    And the moment before she died,
    She lifted up her lovely head and cried,
    Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

    Miss Otis regrets… she’s unable to lunch today.

    -by Cole Porter.

  • This is so funny! And the first time I’ve ever looked at a message board in DC and not seen 3 smarty pantses giving me a real answer or two….

    seriously though guys, what’s the answer? there has to be a smarty pants who knows….

  • TaylorStreetMan says the answer above, as usual its something mealy mouthed about all white people being racists.

  • I knew there was a reason why I’ve kept dozens of books on Washington history all these years. The book says:
    “Otis Place (NW), Street (NE)
    Described by John Adams as a ‘flame of fire,’ James Otis (1725-1783) fought for colonial rights by leading the American opposition to Britain. He, with Samuel Adams, protested the Townsend Acts of 1767, which taxed certain items imported to the colonies, such as tea. Their efforts helped to bring about the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.”

    Sounds like a Right Wing zealot to me!

  • Man, and here I thought it was this guy…

  • Indeed, would be cool if it were named after Otis Redding, but I doubt it.

    – El Rojo

  • There’s a great book that’s been out of print for about a decade, called George Washington Never Slept Here: The History of Street Names in Washington, D.C. that I would recommend.

    Sloppily researched, with a number of errors and no citations – not worth shelling out for.

    Her entry on Benning Road is a good example of the problems w/the book – Alotta claims (w/no evidence) that it’s named after Georgia state justice Henry Louis Benning, rather its actual namesake, William Benning (1771-1831), an early D.C. landowner whose estate fronted onto the Road that now bears his name.

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