A House by Any Other Name

For some people, a house is more than just a place to live, it’s a branding opportunity — so why not give it a moniker?

“Instead of saying ‘I’m going home,’ I say ‘I’m going to Thistledown,’” said Carol Morgan of her farm north of Atlanta.
“Instead of saying ‘I’m going home,’ I say ‘I’m going to Thistledown,’” said Carol Morgan of her farm north of Atlanta.Credit…Kelly Blackmon for The New York Times

By Joanne Kaufman, NY Times

Carol Morgan called her Chevrolet Tahoe, Thelma; she christened her diesel truck, Louise. It was only reasonable then that she would demonstrate at least as much regard for the house she built with her former husband in north metro Atlanta.

Welcome to Thistledown, named for the prickly purple-topped weed that dependably covers large swaths of the property every summer.

“I had never owned a house with a name before. But it’s a house on 20 acres so it just seemed like it needed a name,” said Ms. Morgan, the owner of a public relations and marketing firm.

For a while, she toyed with “Thistle” but “‘thistle’ by itself didn’t work,” Ms. Morgan said. A body of water known as Two Run Creek runs along the edge of the property; that, too, was on a list of name possibilities, but — who can explain why — didn’t feel right. Thistledown it was.

There’s no place like home. But plenty of people think that home by some other name makes it even more special. 

“Your home is your identity,” said David Wilk, the director of the real estate program at the Temple University Fox School of Business. “People may name their house to impress others, but mostly it’s a way to make their house seem more lovable and more interesting.

“What we’re learning in these Covid times is that our homes are our safe spaces and our palaces no matter their size,” Mr. Wilk continued. “Naming a house is a way to emphasize its importance to the owner.”

It also can change the perceptions of visitors. So said Robert Fowler, co-founder and chief executive of Catalyst Creativ, a Manhattan-based marketing and branding company, who, with his husband, Anthony Rosen, recently bought a house in Roxbury, Conn., that after many suggestions from friends, including “Night at the Roxbury,” became known as Fern Hollow. It was a name inspired by the property’s topography and by the bracken that grows in profusion in the yard.

“If you’re going to a Four Seasons Hotel it creates a different set of expectations than if you’re going to a Doubletree,” Mr. Fowler said. “I think guests also have a different set of expectations when they go to a house with a name. Maybe it seems like more of a destination.”

The custom of naming a house goes back centuries. For as long as residents of the British Isles have had four walls and a roof over their heads, they’ve given those dwellings a name. And what was good for manors was good for more modest digs. Sometimes, those names were inspired by a property’s setting, sometimes by the occupation of the owner.

According to the Land Registry, the department that records the ownership of property in England and Wales, 1.4 million out of 26 million houses across England had names in 2011, the most recent year such stats were collected. The top names, combined with “house,” “cottage,” and “view,” include the words Orchard, Meadow, Sunnyside and Rose.

In due course, the house-naming tradition traveled across the ocean and took root in places like Newport, R. I., and on the Philadelphia Main Line, the south and the southwest. “In Texas people have long named their ranches as both a way to help people locate their property or, if they were raising cattle or horses, as a way to build their brand,” Mr. Wilk said.

In the United States as in England, vanity house names fall into several categories. Foreign phrases; puns; inside jokes; spiritual allusions (for example, Sanctuary and Paradise), have their fans. Some take their inspiration from a property’s location. They live on a secluded dimple of land so why not “Hidden Valley.”

Others, meanwhile, come up with a name that’s, well, very close to home — their own name.

Thus, Craigmoor, the handle that the landscape architect Craig Socia gave his nearly one-and-a-half acre spread, an agglomeration of three parcels, in East Hampton. (For the record, the “moor” piece of the name came by way of Wildmoor, the Hamptons house where Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis spent some childhood summers, and where, early in his career, Mr. Socia did some landscaping.)

“The name unified the property and made it very personal,” said Mr. Socia, who made it official by writing out Craigmoor in wet cement on the driveway.

“We did this out of affection,” said Drew Plant, left, with his husband, Bill Golden, of the decision to give their house a name: Wild Creek Trailer.
“We did this out of affection,” said Drew Plant, left, with his husband, Bill Golden, of the decision to give their house a name: Wild Creek Trailer. Credit…Kelly Blackmon for The New York Times

Others choose a name that reflects the appearance of the property. In 2002, when Drew Plant and his partner, now husband, Bill Golden, bought a long, low-slung ranch-style house in Atlanta, it looked so much like a trailer and was situated on a street called Wild Creek Trail, that the couple started referring to their new residence as “Wild Creek Trailer.” “The name stuck,” said Mr. Plant, the head of a public relations and marketing firm, “We use it along with our street address on invitations.

“We do it in a lighthearted way but there are people who think we think we’re pretty fancy,” he added. “They come here and they raise their eyebrows when they see it’s a ranch house. They thought it would be a grand historical place.”

It was just that specter of raised eyebrows that kept Dennis Paget and his wife, Nancy Pelz Paget, from calling their property “C’est le rêve.” Yes, the antique house on an acre was a dream property. 

“But it was a bit much for a country cottage in Redding, Connecticut,” said Ms. Pelz Paget, who until retiring a few years ago, was director of the Aspen Education Program.

“When we first looked at the house it had plaid wall paper, linoleum on the floor and low ceilings,” she continued. “And there wasn’t a square corner anywhere. Everything about it was funny and it had been a farm so we named it the Funny Farm — not in reference to the nut house but to suggest that it was a happy place for us.”

A name is merely the first step for some owners. In 1984, when Anthony Sullivan moved with his wife to a raised ranch on 13 acres in Bloomfield, Conn., he named the property Ringsend after the town that was his final stop on a biking trip around Ireland, carved a sign and hung it at the top of the driveway.

Years ago, Anthony Sullivan named his house Ringsend in tribute to a town in Ireland. Mr. Sullivan’s son, Tom, who now lives on the Bloomfield, Conn., property with his own family, is keeping the Ringsend tradition alive.
Years ago, Anthony Sullivan named his house Ringsend in tribute to a town in Ireland. Mr. Sullivan’s son, Tom, who now lives on the Bloomfield, Conn., property with his own family, is keeping the Ringsend tradition alive. Credit…Allegra Anderson for The New York Times

“My dad was very eccentric and would answer the phone ‘Ringsend here,’” said Tom Sullivan, of his late father. “He built bridges over the stream on the property and called them the bridges of Ringsend and registered one of our dogs with the American Kennel Club as Ruby Duncan of Ringsend.”

And then there are those instances when a house just seems to name itself.

Jen Wening has a cat named Bear. And when, in 2016, she first went to look at the Gramercy Park townhouse that would soon be hers, she learned that “Baer” was the last name of the property’s first owner. When Ms. Wening, a house stager, happened to look up, there was the image of a bear, fashioned from pieces of glass, in the skylight. Oh, yes, and the last name of one of the brokers was Beare. She bought the place as an LLC called Bear House.

Jen Wening named her Gramercy Park townhouse the Bear House. The ursine theme is reinforced with items like a martini shaker in the shape of a polar bear.
Jen Wening named her Gramercy Park townhouse the Bear House. The ursine theme is reinforced with items like a martini shaker in the shape of a polar bear.Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

“My family says things like ‘the Bear House is so happy now that we’ve sealed the front stoop’ or ‘the Bear House misses us when we go away,’” Ms. Wening said. “I think anthropomorphizing a house by giving it a name makes it more lovely to be in.”

More lovely, perhaps, but, generally, not more valuable to prospective buyers. “Ultimately, people are purchasing the property, not the name,” Mr. Wilk said. Still, “the name can be a way of differentiating your property in a crowded market.”

Some owners do what they can to see that their vanity house name lives on after they’ve vacated the premises. 

This past summer, when the Pagets sold their property in Redding, Conn., and moved to a condominium, they left the Funny Farm sign with its inverted N’s in the front yard as a gift for the new owner. 

But Mr. Socia, who recently put his East Hampton house on the market, is, clearly, a realist.

“You never know the ego of buyers,” he said. “They may want to change it to their own name.”

SPECIAL NOTE:

I am one of those people who has a name for my house. My house is named Casa Pamo and my ADU was recently named Casita Pamo. Do you have name your house/houses? Let me know! Just send me an email or call 619-888-2117.