Friday Question of the Day – Why Do You Think the Neighborhood Name NoMa has Stuck while Capitol Riverfront Hasn’t?

by Prince Of Petworth September 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm 84 Comments

I’ve been curious about this week’s question for a while. It has me stumped. While I know that not everyone likes the name NoMa, I think it’s fair to say that it has been adopted by most folks. I know some still pine for Swampoodle but I think NoMa is staying for good. In contrast not one person I know calls Navy Yard – the Capitol Riverfront. Some people I know now call it the ball park but most have stuck with Navy Yard. Both neighborhoods have BIDs and banners. Both neighborhoods have had and continue to have major developments. So why do you think NoMa has stuck while Capitol Riverfront hasn’t?

  • grr

    NoMa is now the name of the metro stop, which definitely helps the “NoMa” cause. Navy Yard is still the name of the metro stop – I bet that doesn’t help. Plus there isn’t enough development on the actual riverbanks yet to really call it a riverfront IMO – that area is a virtual ghost town when there’s no ballgame going on. I think when more development is realized, people might adopt “Capitol Riverfront” more… or if they change the name of the metro stop. Though a “Waterfront” metro stop does exist already, which might get confusing.

  • It’s too long (syllables) and somewhat generic sounding. It sounds like it’s supposed to be followed by the word “Mall.”

    • Anonymous

      +1 syllables

    • +1 to Mall.
      I always think “Capitol Riverfront Strangler” as in “Another gruesome attack by the Capitol Riverfront Strangler” when I hear it.

  • Anonymous

    NoMa is easy to say and besides, what was NoMa called beforehand? The same answer for the Navy Yard, Capitol Riverfront has twice as many as syllables as Navy Yard. Its much easier to say.

  • I think it’s because “NoMa” was a bit of a wasteland before, and now that it’s become somewhat developed it has itself a name. The whole “capital riverfront” re-branding just seems a bit like real-estate gimmick – the neighborhood already has a name, no need to change it just because you built a few additional crappy condos here.

  • Because “Capitol Riverfront” sounds like a Craigslist scam – and Navy Yard sound totally cool.

    • Rukasu

      You wouldn’t say that 7 years ago

      • Anonymous

        Why? We all called it that 7 years ago.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, but overall it sure wasn’t that cool 7 years ago.

          • Anonymous

            Most (all?) neighborhoods in DC were less cool 7 years ago.

          • Anonymous

            There sure used to be a lot more to do down there though.

          • I thought the area was cool when I saw NOFX and Bad Religion play at Nation 7 years ago. We lost a music venue that hosted cool bands and got a bunch of yuppie condos instead.

          • Mt.P4Eva

            WHAT??? Navy Yard has always been cool. Do you people not remember the Capitol Ballroom???? If anything, it is now significantly LESS cool.

      • Yeah! That neighborhood was WAY cooler when it averaged around 4 murders a year before those yuppie condos came in!

        • washingtonian

          I don’t know how long you’ve lived in this city, but averaging four murders a year was nothing for a neighborhood in the bad old days.

  • RozCat

    NoMA adopted by “most folks.” ?? I don’t know anyone who uses the term non-ironically; the area is usually just “Northeast” or “North Capitol” or “Capitol Hill” or “near the bus station.” Beyond it being an eye-rolling derivative of cheesy NY short hand, it’s not even helpfully descriptive. “North of Mass Ave” could be half of the city. Cleveland Park or U Street, or Pleasant Plains are all “NoMa.”

    • Anonymous

      no one calls it north capitol hill, because it’s downhill from capitol hill. no one calls it Northeast, because thats’ just silly. it WAS called Near Northeast, is that best for you? north capitol hill? just realtors. a while ago.

      pity you don’t like”noma”. it’s gonna stick.
      the name georgetown is also kind of lame. you know that no one actually knows if its named for King George, or the two guys named george that used to own the land. How about foggy bottom, which is no longer a bottom. or foggy for that matter.

      or cleveland heights which was pathetically named in honor of grover cleveland when he had a summer home there. fort lincoln is a playground.
      fort totten is just a path where people get mugged.

      Anacostia is a big river, but a small neighborhood.

      theres no circle in truxton circle. no woods in edgewood, no park in kingman park.

      all hood names are kind of lame. but they are what they are.

      • RozCat

        Why would it be silly to call it Northeast– that’s where it is?

        • I’ll take this one. Because based on YOUR “logic” that calling it NoMa would apply to “half the city” – calling it Northeast would reference the ENTIRE quadrant (see a map for detail.)

          NoMa works for the area and so far it’s sticking. I agree with other posters on Navy Yard – just keep Navy Yard.

          Also – Kingman Park – actually NOW has a park, on Kingman Island – just FYI.

          • Jay

            Love it or hate it, some people are definitely calling this area NoMa. I still hear a lot of “north of Union Station” and “New York Ave metro” too…

      • Anony

        Cleveland “Heights”? are you from Ohio? Better get to know your DC neighborhoods before you start dropping Wikipedia knowledge on folks

    • You’re right RozCat. I don’t know anyone who refers to that area as NoMa (not even people who live there). It probably will stick because Metro was silly enough to name the stop “NoMa,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not a stupid name. And “Swampiodle” was never a serious consideration outside the nostalgia-obsessed ironic set. As for “Navy Yard,” that’s been the generally-accepted name of that area for what, 150+ years? Why change it to something so generic as “Capitol Riverfront?”

      • LoverBoy

        I don’t know anyone who doesn’t call it NOMA. I like Swampoodle better, but it’s known as NOMA now.

        • I think you missed the point. If you know people who use the name, and I know people who don’t, then it’s not “known as NoMa.” Some call it that and some don’t. It probably will gain traction due to Metro’s decision re: naming the stop, but what’s accepted in PoPville is not necessarily recognized by the result of the city (shocking, I know).

          • “Rest” not “result”

          • Anon X

            Many people call many different areas different things.

            This is why I find the entire discussion of rigid neighborhood boundaries a bit absurd.

            You know what the Native Americans called this area? NOT Washington, DC. Not sure its relevant to this discussion, but it seems as relevant as all the other little factoids busted out when neighborhood names start getting discussed.

  • Anonymous

    because the capitol riverfront accounts for about 35 miles of land from georgetown to kingman island and beyond. it’s too vague. Navy Yard means something and has existed for a long time. and we already have an are called “waterfront”. the rebranding there was not well thought out.
    noma was nothing before but parking lots and csx refuse. the rebranding there makes more sense.

  • Anonymous

    Dear PoP,

    The neighborhood has been referred to as NoMa since at least the 1990s.

    Please learn something about DC if you are going to keep running this blog. All the other DC blogs at least offer some insight into what they are posting about. You just have a picture and a sentence. Your sentence is usually wrong.

    Please stop encouraging those people who say “I’m never going to call it NoMa”.

    Also, there is no “d” in “Swampoodle”, and it hasn’t been that neighborhood for literally 100 years. If anyone called it “Swampoodle” now THAT would be ironic, because it is no longer a swampy Irish slum.

    • Maybe some people have referred to it as NoMa since the ’90’s but it’s definitely gaining more popularity now, especially with the metro stop name change. Not sure why you are so critical of PoP… he’s never claiming to be your top resource in DC history, just trying to get some conversation going and hear what residents have to say. I personally like his style, which is why I read the blog.

    • zrc

      You just did the equivalent of being invited into someone’s home for dinner, and then insulting their cooking. If you don’t enjoy this site, don’t visit it. PoP works hard to have a viable blog with interesting and current information. Insulting your host is not classy, and doing so anonymously is cowardly as well.

    • Anonymous

      The self-loathing in this post is palpable.

      • Tim

        haha +1

    • ET

      First, I don’t think PoP was trying to discourage people from saying NoMa I think he honestly want to know what NoMa seems to have caught on and the other name didn’t.

      But to get to another point by no stretch of the imagination did even a preponderance of people refer to the area we now call NoMa call it that back in the 1990’s – even the very late 1990 and I have lived on the Hill since 1994 (and just under half of that about 1 block from Union Station). I was real estate hunting in late 1999 and never once heard of that area referred to by that by anyone.

      Did I hear occasional reference to that- yes. But it was so few and far between I thought it was just because they didn’t want to type “NE DC, east of North Capitol and north of Union Station” and just want to try and develop a shorthand for that area that sounded “cool.” It wasn’t until developers really started to be interested in that area and gentrification heated up that one really started to here that and that was well after 2000.

    • That Man A

      You must admit though… For starters it wasnt widely accepted as “NoMa” you would mayyyybe here it every now and then. Even then NoMa wasnt short for north of Mass ave though. It was short for “No mans land”

      I think the problem people have is how they just try to forget what was there and copmpletley rebrand the area

      i thinik the whole north of mass ave is pretty dumb
      keep it a short for no mans land if you are going to keep the name

  • Capitol Riverfront is too many syllables and is not the name of the closest Metro station.

    • CapRi?

      Sounds like the name of an exotic beach resort.

  • CaRiFro just doesn’t have the frisson of FloRhIde. Or even Vinegar Hill for that matter.

    And I’ve been calling the Southwest Waterfront “SoWWat” for years. Get with the program, people.

  • Caroline

    I guess because I work at the Navy Yard I’m not inclined to refer to anything outside of it as the Navy Yard. I’ll refer to the Capitol Riverfront area as “near the Navy Yard metro,” “near the SE/SW border at M Street,” or the Yards Park if I’m referring specifically to that part of it.

    I don’t use the terms Capitol Riverfront (or NoMA for that matter) because I assume the person I’m speaking to is less familiar with DC and isn’t up to date on all the latest neighborhood names.

  • Chops

    Because Navy Yard is a great name! Why would they want to try and rebrand it with a generic “Riverfront” (which, given DC’s two rivers, isn’t very helpful geographically)?

    Let’s all stick with Navy Yard – a catchy, historical, precise name – and eventually the corny “Capitol Riverfront” signs will fray away.

    • Tim


  • Anonymous

    I’m not hating, but this is a dumb question. How would anyone ever refer to anything as “Capitol Riverfront” ?

    “Mmmmm yess dahhling, shall we go to the Capitol Riverfront this evening for caviar?”

    “Oh no dahling, that is just a fancy name for a neighborhood in which we are most likely to get killed.”

    “Shall we go to NoMa instead?”

  • WalbridgeGuy

    I think there’s a bit of name confusion too with Capital Riverfront. Too easy to confuse with National Harbor or Georgetown Waterfront or Southwest Waterfront. Not that they’re alike, but that there’s all these “on the river” areas that really aren’t that common of destinations for a lot of folks and thus sort of blur together.

  • Petworthian

    I despise the name “Capitol Riverfront” mainly because they used capitOl and not capitAl. Capitol refers to the dome-shaped building, but capital refers to our city. The latter is more appropriate, I think.

    They should just shorten it to “Riverfront,” though that may be confusing with the SW Waterfront.

    • Petworthian

      Actually, just keep it “Navy Yard.” That’s what everyone calls it anyway.

    • saf

      Yeah, it always seemed to me that whoever named “Capitol Riverfront” should be embarrassed for showing his/her ignorance.

    • English teacher here. It’s possible that the “o” in “Capitol” refers to the fact that South Capitol Street runs through the area.
      But good on you for reminding everyone that Washington is “A Capital City” and the big domed building is the “Capitol”.

  • Anonymous

    I call the area Yards Park.

    • Yards Park is just the park by the water.

      • Anonymous

        and dupont is just a circle. your point?

  • Anonymous

    “Drop the ‘the’ just ‘Facebook”‘ – there’s your answer.

  • Anonymous

    I blame Jennifer Lopez. I’m pretty sure she’s the cause of all these ridiculous abbreviations. After J-Lo entered the lexicon, we didn’t look back when it comes to stupidly naming people or things.

  • Anon X

    Easy, because NOMA didnt really have a name until someone branded it NOMA and the “Capitol Riverfront” has always been Navy Yard, because until 5 years ago it was the only thing there that anyone knew about aside from Nation and some gay strip clubs.

  • Anon

    The Navy Yard is Navy Yard, and the rest is “Down by the Stadium”

  • Anonymous

    Because DC longs to be like NYC and NYC has cool names like NoHo and SoHo. We counter with NoMa and CoHi…

    • Anonymous

      oh, and I forgot Admo

      • roccocco

        I wish DC longed to by NYC. I think in DC everyone cares so much about what other people do, in NYC nobody cares how you dress or what you do. DC knows it’s place and wisely doesn’t pretend to be NYC, abbreviated names or otherwise.

        • Bloomingdude

          Is this really true? I hear people say from time to time that someone else wants DC to be NYC, but I don’t think I know anyone who actually thinks DC should try to compete with NYC. In fact, most people I know prefer DC to NYC because they think DC has a better quality of life and/or they prefer our political power status to NYC’s financial and fashion glam. I think developers and real estate people make up these names cause they think they’re hip, when they’re not cause they sound so boardroom fake.

        • Anonymous

          If no one cares what you wear in NYC, why does everyone try so goddamn hard to dress like they’re not trying that hard?

    • Anonn

      Because New York longs to be like London, with cool names like SoHo and West End (Ave).

    • Anonymous

      So if NYC had a cool neighborhood called NYC Riverfront then maybe Capitol Riverfront would stick?

  • Anonymous

    I think people make too much of a fuss over neighborhood names these days, like it’s all a marketing gimmick to sell real estate.

    • Anonymous

      Always was.

    • Anonymous

      It’s like “east capitol hill” nope, sorry, you like by rfk! That’s your hood.

  • RozCat

    I love these declarations that “nobody” in DC call it this or “everybody” calls it that. Survey 100 kids at Eastern High School and ask them what the call this area. Or 100 pastor in NORTHEAST or 100 congressmen or 100 old ladies in Chevy Chase… in Popville, I guess those people just don’t exist.

  • David

    Here are some proposed names for the area by the Navy Yard and / Ball park and north.

    * North Anacostia
    * SE Waterfront

    • Anonymous

      Problem is “Anacostia” and “SE” both have negative connotations still.

      • Anonymous

        is there any name that doesnt have negative connotations for someone?

      • I think Anacostia is quickly losing the negative connotation associated with the name. To me, it evokes a revitalized Harlem or U St. for that matter.

  • anon

    Has it really taken off? I work in the area, and every time I get to the metro stop and I hear NoMa rather than NY Ave it surprises me. Most of the people I know are more likely to know were Capitol Riverfront is than NoMa. So, I think it seems like it has taken off because the BID successfully got Metro to change the station name. At some point, tat will lead to full adoption/recognition, but I don’t think it has happened yet.

  • NoMa’s over there

    Let’s be clear, NoMa is west of the tracks. That’s why we need a great name for the area east of the tracks, south of Florida, and north of h street. The solution:


    It’s the triangle south of Gallaudet!! Let’s help make TriSoGa catch on, it’s our DUMBO!

    • Anonymous

      it’s also east of the tracks.

    • For a while—maybe 10 years ago—I thought the area was starting to be called SoFlo (south of Florida). Did that just die out? I kinda liked it.

      • Tim

        I like SoFlo too!

    • adl

      I guess somebody forgot to tell that to the city; those NoMa signs can be seen east of the tracks on M St, down to 4th and 5th Street NE. I live in the northeastern section of the triangle you describe, and agree that it becomes annoying to tell people I live “north of H and south of Florida”. Sometimes people have an easier time picturing it when I tell them “just on the other side of Florida Ave from Trinidad”. Had also previously heard SoFlo and didn’t think it was terrible.

    • There is a long-standing name for that area – Near Northeast.

      • Anonymous

        yes, but that’s a hugely lame name.

  • katia

    I live in the Navy Yard neighborhood (very close to the boarder to Capitol Hill) I usually say that I live in Navy Yard or Capitol Hill, depending who I’m talking to/how I gauge their understanding of the city. If I state “Capitol Hill” and they want more information, I state “the Navy Yard neighborhood.” Some people I know even have referenced it as “the Navy Yard neighborhood of Capitol Hill”

    I’m finding that a lot of people recently have gone to, or watched on TV, (or saw on the news) a Nats game this season compared with past season(s) so they immediately understand “Ballpark District” and where it is geographically/spatially in the City. I’ve even noticed it myself, two days ago when someone was coming to visit on a game day I needed to remind them, “remember, since I live in the Ballpark District, parking may be hard to come by.”

  • Anonymous

    The BID should have left the neighborhood being called Navy Yard. Why ignore the establishment; the WNY has brought folks to this area forever; banners with a fancy name won’t change it. I live and work in the neighborhood and don’t even try bothering with calling it by it’s new name that an overpriced consultant from somewhere else came up with that the BID hangs on to even though it makes NO sense. Plus, I agree with below, it sounds fake.

  • David

    Canal Yards?

  • Tim

    Echoing what other people are saying, I feel like NoMa and Capitol Riverfront are not organic names. I’m sure there are examples around DC of long established neighborhoods named as real estate gimmicks, but these “newer” developments are spearheading “placemaking from above”. A developer comes in and buys a bunch of properties and says “OK everyone, this part of town is gonna be called NoMa…got it?” NoMa to me sounds vague and NYC-aping, and Capitol Riverfront is vague, wordy, and bland.

    I’d prefer these names to come from area histories, culture, and most importantly the people already there. Ask people walking home from the “NoMa” metro stop (will always by NY Ave in my heart) “Hey, what do you call your neighborhood? How do you respond when people ask where you live?” Use more of that data to develop neighborhood identities when these big developments are going in. Crowdsource it, “placemaking from below”. That way you’re more likely to have neighborhood names that stick and that people like. That’s why I like the name “Navy Yard” for the area near the ballpark because it’s historic, simple and I feel like most people I talk to use it and recognize what it’s referring to.

    • Anonn

      “I’m sure there are examples around DC of long established neighborhoods named as real estate gimmicks…”

      Like Chevy Chase

      • Anonymous

        Gallery PLace
        Penn Quarter

        i wonder how people would react today if we were just naming our country of city. District of Columbia? so pretentious.

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