A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Dogpatch may have the weirdest name origin story.

by Nuala Sawyer via SF Weekly

The Haight was named after a pioneer and exchange banker. SoMa stands for South of Market. Russian Hill got its name after settlers discovered a small Russian cemetery at its top during the Gold Rush era. But the Dogpatch? That’s one origin story that’s up for debate.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Dogpatch was known as “Dutchman’s Flat,” due in part to the large number of Dutch settlers who worked in the shipyard. But in the mid-1900s, the neighborhood slowly acquired a new name — though little evidence remains as to why.

One theory is that it gets its name from the prolific dogfennel plant, a weed that grows well over six feet on what’s left of Irish Hill. Another theory ties the name to the packs of dogs that used to scavenge meat scraps from slaughterhouses.

But the best answer — in our opinion — comes from the comic strip Li’l Abner. The fictional characters resided in a poor mountain village called Dogpatch, which was described as being “nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills somewhere.” The comic strip’s reach was enormous, with a spot in more than 900 American newspapers during its run from 1934 to 1977.

Naming a neighborhood after a comic strip sounds cute, but Dogpatch may have earned its moniker due to outside prejudices. The fictional impoverished town was rife with thieves and hillbillies, and its population prided itself on being lazy.

Today, the name has become synonymous with good Southern food restaurants, artist studios, and the constant clanging and banging of construction sites as luxury apartments take the place of fields of dogfennel.

Neighborhood names are not always permanent in San Francisco — just take a look at NoPa inching out Western Addition, or Union Square West’s threat to the Tenderloin. Will “the Dogpatch” stick for good? Only time will tell.