Whether you’re a tourist or a Washington, D.C., native, it’s likely that you assume that Georgetown was named for George Washington, first president of the United States and Revolutionary War hero.
After all, the entire city, founded in 1791, was named after President Washington, so why not an additional neighborhood?
However, Georgetown was actually founded in 1751, four decades before the federal city, when our first president was only 19 years old. He was busier surveying lands and assuming control of the Mount Vernon estate than reaching national acclaim of any kind. The Declaration of Independence was still a quarter-century away.
With George Washington ruled out, how did Georgetown get its name?
The most common explanation is that Georgetown, originally known as “George Town” and established as a port city on the Potomac River in the Province of Maryland, was named in honor of King George II, the grandfather of King George III, against whom the American colonies would later rebel.
That’s not the only theory regarding Georgetown’s name, though. The other plausible explanation is that George Town got its name from the two businessmen and landowners who founded the town, George Gordon and George Beall.
The two Georges sold a combined 60 acres of property to the Province of Maryland for a cool £280 in 1751. Surely, it was a good deal at the time, but little did they know that 250 years later, you wouldn’t be able to find the tiniest of one-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood for less than $1,500 per month, and it’d be a steal if you did.
The town, then still in Maryland, was eventually incorporated in 1789. When Washington, D.C., was established two years later, Georgetown’s land was included in the new federal District of Columbia.
However, even after that time, Georgetown very much remained its own entity and was actually a separate and independent municipality for nearly a full century more, until 1871. In 1895, its streets were renamed to conform with the rest of the District.
Georgetown’s unique characteristics remain today. It has no immediate access to the Metro and is known for its high-end shops and restaurants, waterfront property, and quaint neighborhood streets, as opposed to the massive all-white facades of the government buildings downtown.
Ultimately, it’s more likely that King George II is the eponymous George in question. However, with George Gordon and George Beall in the mix, it’s impossible to rule out that side of the story or dual name honors.
Want to learn more? Learn how Tenleytown got its name.
This article was first published on Yahoo News on January 9, 2013.