The name DUMBO evokes beautiful waterfront views and prime real estate price tags for many New Yorkers. Yet historians say the acronym, for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, was coined by local artists to highlight the area’s industrial vibe – and keep out developers.

Nearby in Brooklyn, the trendy neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill were once simply considered South Brooklyn until the late 1950s and ’60s when resident groups made up largely of young, white-collar workers rechristened them with names meant to recall the area’s Colonial roots.

In recent months, New Yorkers were up in arms over a TikTok trend that dropped the definite article from storied neighborhoods like the West Village – though experts say it’s anyone’s guess if that practice sticks.

“If you live in the Lower East Side, and you call it the Lower East Side, and the majority of people who live there and spend time there and who own businesses there continue to call it the Lower East Side, then I don't think there will be a change,” Anna Klenkar, a real estate agent and housing expert, said.

People have been renaming the neighborhoods of New York City for as long as the city has been around. Although most people equate this practice to a greed-driven top-down approach from developers looking to maximize profits in an area, it’s also been a way for communities to band together to lay claim to the place they call home.

Historians like Lilly Tuttle, curator at the Museum of the City of New York, point to SoHo as a classic example of the latter. By the middle of the 20th century, the area was largely industrial and known as the cast-iron district. Its streets were lined with manufacturers, wholesalers, warehouses and the like. 

There was a plan to raze the area to make way for a 10-lane superhighway, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, connecting Long Island to New Jersey.

But residents, led by urban planner and author Chester Rapkin, organized to give the area a boost by changing its name, giving it not only a locational identity but also connecting it to London’s trendy West End neighborhood of the same name.

“Legend has it late one night [he] was talking with people about how they were going to save Soho, and what was going to be sort of the future of that district,” Tuttle said. “And he came up with the idea of SoHo — the area south of Houston.”

The move back then was a gamble, she said. Residents had no idea if giving the neighborhood a new name would turn an area that had been written off into a desirable place to live.

“The idea that this would actually be some of the most valuable real estate in New York City, once it had the name SoHo, was not something that anyone really foresaw,” she said. 

It was roughly around this time that other neighborhoods were testing out this same strategy — utilizing new names to revitalize and rebrand an area.

During the 1950s and ‘60s in Brooklyn, organizations composed of the artists, lawyers, bankers who started moving to the area in the mid-20th century were trying to keep people in New York by promoting the brownstone lifestyle.

“The whole idea that brownstone Brooklyn would be a place that would take off financially and become a very desirable place to live and raise a family was actually somewhat novel in the 1960s,” Tuttle said. 

Neighborhood associations went into the history books and found Colonial-era names connected to the area like Carroll, Boerum and Cobble Hill, and put them to use to create a “rustic” and historic vibe to them, she said.

The practice known commonly today as a developer profit-driven scheme sprang from a bottom-up approach.

“What you see today is real estate developers and planners kind of catching up with a process that began more than 50 years ago, at a time when the city was really struggling and losing large numbers of population to the suburbs,” Tuttle said.

But this strategy doesn’t always work. What makes a name stick? 

Experts point to a number of factors: The name has to roll off the tongue or sound catchy and, perhaps more importantly, the name has to have meaning to the area. 

And they said New Yorkers will recoil if a new name seems obviously directed by the real estate market.

“When stuff comes from real estate agents, it's going to get [...] dragged a lot more because they'll be like, ‘Oh, agents are just trying to make this name happen so they can charge more for a neighborhood,’ ” Klenkar said.

It’s why attempts to call areas like South of Harlem, SoHa, or Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea North or Mid-West, do not tend to work out.

“New Yorkers are cynical, skeptical people,” Tuttle said. “If it doesn't feel organic, and it doesn't feel like it's naming something that feels, you know, right or real, I don't know that it will stick.”

When NoLIta — north of Little Italy — started to gain traction in the mid-1990s to early 2000s, residents were quick to correct people who used the new term.

“People [were] coming by suddenly and saying, “Where’s NoLIta?’ and I'm like, ‘No, there is no NoLIta.  I don't know what you're talking about,’ ” said Eddie Panta, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

Back then, real estate marketers were looking to carve out the area, bordered by Houston Street, the Bowery, Broome Street and Lafayette Street, by distancing its immigrant past connected to Little Italy, an urban enclave for some of the country’s earliest Italian residents and known for its slum-like conditions dating back to the end of the 19th century. 

“For people who lived here, NoLIta was very much a gentrification term,” Panta said. “I didn’t think it would stick. I knew what it was right away.”

Residents like Panta still refuse to use the term NoLIta, and say they’ve actually seen signage on stores or restaurants with the term decreasing over the years.

Whether a new name sticks, or an existing name fundamentally altered such as the case with social media users dropping the article from the West or East Village, it all comes down to what long-time residents will go on calling it, experts said.

“I don't know that social media, as dispersed and atomized as it is, has the power to change these names that have been in the imagination for more than 50 years, in some cases,” Tuttle said. “I don't know that social media can completely undo that.”