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Vexations of local nomenclature

Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. The neighborhoods and landmarks in them have names. The boundaries of those neighborhoods are not necessarily clearly delineated, and the names are not necessarily stable.

Pigtown, for example, got its name when swine were commonly run through the streets to their fate. Various municipal prettifiers have attempted to rename it Washington Village. It’s Pigtown.

When a neighborhood demographic shifts or becomes unstable, so does the nomenclature. Gentrifiers move into what was once a working-class neighborhood, and some of the old names they attempt to remove with the Formstone.*

All this rises from an inquiry from Sam Sessa our estimable Midnight Sun blogger, who writes about all the watering holes I avoid. ** An irate reader took him to task for a reference to “Canton Square” in the east-side neighborhood of the same name. It’s O’Donnell Square, the reader insisted.

The canny Mr. Sessa consulted out electronic archive and discovered that we have played both sides for years, alternating between “Canton Square” and “O’Donnell Square.” Then he came to my desk.

“Approach,” I said.

“M’lud, I crave a boon,” he said, and described his need for a ruling.

So I consulted Dee Addington, a 32-year resident of Canton, who explained that the square is properly O’Donnell Square, displaying a statue representing Capt. John O’Donnell, whose plantation was developed into the neighborhood.

Ms. Addington also said that a store calling itself Canton Square Video in the 1980s and that houses built where original rowhouses had been demolished were known as Canton Square.

Ms. Addington did the intake when I was first enrolled in The Sun’s books, and it is not wise to cross her. O’Donnell Square it is, and so The Sun’s electronic stylebook now states unequivocally. Fiat, fiat. Next.


* Formstone, you outlanders, is a synthetic stone covering commonly used on Baltimore rowhouses in the past century. The fastidious find it tacky; when they remove it, they discover that it has protected the original brick from decades of air pollution.

** It’s not that I sit at home with a gouty foot propped on a hassock while I bellow for more port. It’s just that it’s difficult to find saloons with decent draft beer and no televisions. Not fond of the music the young people listen to, either — “young people” understood to include just about anyone born since 1800.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:22 PM | | Comments (28)


Don't mean to come off as some kind of fuddy-duddy. That Schubert fellow has written some nice tunes.

I don't know, John, podagra would explain a lot of things, including that little snub to Brahms, Grieg, Orff, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Gershwin, Barber, Mahler, Bizet, Ravel, and that comic opera duo you're always quoting.

I object strenuously to any effort to reduce my crankiness to some mere physical cause.

I'm not sure what is says when the blog owner starts making comments on his own posts. Does it count in the hit rate? Or is said blog owner simply talking to himself?

Prof. McIntyre, have you ever tried country music? I could send you a mix cd with all of the essential country artists.

Nah, no bother at all. I'd be glad to to it.

Oh...what am I thinking? Disregard that last comment. I remembered that you hail from Kentucky.

Are you more Red Foley or Bill Monroe?

Sam SEESA???

[Expletive deleted]

Thank you.

Are there acceptable local watering holes for the aspiring fuddy-duddy? Tusk, perhaps.

I saw the Sam Seesa too, but got a phone call and didn't post it. But there is another:

protected the original brink from decades of air pollution

Perhaps you meant "brick"?


I love words that sound like what they mean. Vexation falls into that category. It may be my new favorite word. I wonder how many times I can use it during the coming week.

When the knowledge-seeking Mr. Sessa approached your desk, did he have to kiss your ring? Or was the genuflection enough?

For purposes of technical accuracy and very nice alliteration, that should be Supplicant Sessa.

You put "vexations" in the headline and the entire Sandbox shows up.

I figured "nomenclature" brought them out.

Yes, we are all suckers for Latinate words of more than one syllable, I suspect.

Vexation is a special talent.

We have problems w/ neighborhood names in Queens.

I live in Jackson Heights, which has a specific boundary--at least, to me--of Roosevelt Avenue.

When Manuel De Dio Unanua was assassinated in Queens, he was sitting in a restaurant on the other side of Roosevelt. News accounts of his death say the restaurant was in Jackson Heights.

I would call that street corner "part of Elmhurst."

Hope you don't mind a bray from an interloper in the South Plains. (Perhaps you might be swayed by Baltimore family connections and a friendship with Ursula and Robert Youngblood from our days at RFE in Munich.)

Your blog is a daily joy to read for this former copy editor and current minister called out of the ink-stained profession before the current bloodletting began.

I'm wondering about the neighborhood in which my aunt lives, a mug's throw (one street) southeast of Alonzo's, on Sedgewick south of Cold Spring. I always presumed it was simply Roland Park, but she referred to it with another term that I now don't recall -- Alonzoville or someone else's name?

Can you help?

Mr. Smith,

One of these three links might contain the answer you’re looking for, though if you need to get down to street detail, I would suggest downloading the PDF map that they link to.

Baltimore Neighborhood List

Baltimore Neighborhood Map

Roland Park

Charlie Smith: the neighborhood you refer to has, in fact been referred to for many years as "alonzoville" and is bordered by Stoney Run (the creek that runs between the Loyola dorms formerly known as Winwood Towers and the old Equitable bank building) Wingate Rd, Cold Spring Lane and Kittery Ln. This neighborhood is tucked in between Roland park and Tuscany/Canterbury, with the architecture more closely resembling the latter. The majority of the houses were built in the 1920's starting on Wickford Rd, and progressed westward, with materials going from full brick "groups" of 4 to a combination of brick and wood as the Great Depression cut into the developer's budget, The name "Alonsoville" was also used for a Memorial Day neighborhood picnic aptly called "the Alonsoville Picnic." It was named after Alonzo's on Coldspring, and may have been at one time sponsored or contributed to by the Alonso Family, but that was before my time. It really is a neat non-neighborhood in Baltimore, and it has a real sense of community. I was born and raised there and, and still return every summer for the infamous "BeerBQ at Mather's Mothers' (invitation only)"

Tusk is a good option for the Aspiring, As is the bar at the Carlysle Club or Owl Bar.

Bucky: not only the current sandbox dwellers, but some who haven't played in a while!!!

I come out of the woodwork after a hiatus of several months to comment that I have maintained over the years that no one, I'm convinced, truly knows the actual boundaries of all the neighborhoods. (Being originally from Syracuse, I had to learn them like any newcomer.) I will check out the link provided by Abigail, and probably verify the info therein with Zippy Larson. I've also always maintained that the city could ring up some change by selling the neighborhood map as a colorful poster.

Friends have been entertained in the past by me positing the following brain-twister: For every letter of the alphabet, name a Baltimore neighborhood. (I do this with other categories to fall asleep sometimes.) A is for Ashburton, B is for Butchers' Hill, C is for won't be able to do the whole alphabet, but how many can you do without resorting to peeking at a map?

PS: John, for a new musical experience may I suggest the Tone Rangers.

Mather and Charlie: Does that neighborhood not also count as Evergreen? Some fellow congregants of mine insist that that is the real name of that neighborhood. Being a resident of downtown, I myself don't know.

Robin, can we count both Pigtown and Washington Village and cover two letters with a single neighborhood?

Kristin, you shouldn't have to. There are separate entries for each of those letters. I usually say "P is for Pigtown" and "W is for Waverly." There, I gave you one.

Try the alphabet with colors, countries or flowers. Insomnia cured. :)

Good draft beer, depending on what you favor: Slainte in Fells Point. They do have television, however...usually European sports, with the occasional foray into curling.

Good, tiny, eccentric bar that serves eleventy-million types of Scotch and a few strange liquors: Birds of a Feather in Fells Point. Beware the wine (just say no) and stay away on Sushi Night. No TV, and a lovely little back room with fireplace. Nice for propping gouty feet and bellowing for...whatever.

Thanks man, still need to read again to get my head around it.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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