San Francisco Shorthand (or why it’s not called “San Fran”)

It was kindly pointed out to me that when my last post (about the way in which San Francisco’s open personality lets people be who they are without bother) included the name San Fran in the title, I had committed a local faux pas. I suppose that I knew this when I wrote the title, although I have to admit that I didn’t think much about it at the time. I wrote San Fran for the same reason that I sometimes write SF – to save space and that extra millisecond of time.

People have said that it’s because I’m not a San Francisco native that the various methods of shorthand for the city don’t mean anything to me, but I think it’s actually because I come from a family where everyone has a dozen nicknames which we use interchangeably without a second thought. Although, come to think of it, if anyone outside of my family was to call me “K”, I’d probably cringe.

Still, nicknames for everything from my self to my city have always just come naturally to me. In fact, when my phone rings, it’s usually someone’s nickname that comes up on my screen – not their given name. I’m a nickname kind of girl. And so when it was pointed out to me again that there are certain names that you just don’t call San Francisco, I really started thinking about why that is. Because really, I wouldn’t say “San Fran” out loud because it sounds weird to me … and I wouldn’t use “Frisco” at all because that too just doesn’t roll off of my tongue. But I say SF and I write San Fran.

And of course, it isn’t just the city that we do and don’t shorthand; it’s the neighborhoods as well. In fact, I was recently reading a book which mentioned that locals never say SoMA which I found interesting because I don’t actually know anyone that says South of Market (my native SF friends included). In contrast, most people I’ve met say “The Tenderloin”, not just Tenderloin (or even TL as a couple of people have called it). And that neighborhood brings up the interesting point that nicknames help to further distinguish small neighborhoods in San Francisco (because you have The Tenderloin and Nob Hill and then there’s Lower Nob Hill and the Tendernob, depending on who you talk to).

I guess it just got me thinking about how interesting it is that we identify with certain names for our homes and not with other names. Nicknames and shorthand can really help you tell who is from a certain area, who is a transplant and who is a visitor. And this is probably stronger in San Francisco than in many other places because it is a city which people have intense feelings about. I know I do – no matter what I may call it, San Fran had my heart and soul from the day that I first stepped foot here.

20 Comments so far

  1. sw (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    I like “TL”, “Soma” and “SF”. Although I’m more likely to say “The City” than “SF” when speaking out loud.


  2. Kathryn (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

    Good point, I actually say “The City” all of the time and didn’t even think of that. I also annoy all of my East and South Bay friends by calling everything that is Bay Area but is not SF by the vague (and perhaps offensive) term “over there” (due mostly – admittedly – to my own lack of knowledge of “over there”).


  3. tyler82 (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 2:23 pm

    “San Francisco” doesn’t really roll off the tongue either, there are too many S’s too close together, and the words are something that you enunciate whether you want to or not (it’s very Latin in that respect), so it takes time to say it, which is probably why those “lazy” ppl just say San Fran

    Same goes for Los Angeles, which is why the LA moniker has replaced it.

    Either way, San Fran is the verbal equivalent of what chicken grits is to food. Excuse me while I grab my barf bucket!


  4. Mark (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

    That’s okay. “San Fran” will do in a pinch.

    People do get a little annoyed at “Frisco,” only because it sounds like the speaker is trying to be hip.

    I’ve heard some people start using “SFO” to mean the city itself. I wonder how people in LA would like the whole city being called LAX.


  5. jenny (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

    I live in SF and I call it the City for short. anytime I have to say San Francisco its because I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know what I mean by the City. AND I do call SOMA by its shorthand, same with my native sf friends! But for sure, Frisco is not cool.


  6. Rocco (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 4:08 pm

    Good post.

    Just to clarify, I was not bagging on you there. Just a pet peeve of mine. I just miss living in the place so much I try to toss out the San Francisco snobbery any time I can! It is my form of therapy!


  7. Denise (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

    I completely relate to Kathryn’s “over there” comment. In fact, if the location I’m referring to is somewhere in the south bay (but not in silicon valley), friends and I have taken to saying “South San Burlingbrae” as a nod to both our ignorance of what’s over there, and the difficulty any casual visitor might have distinguishing between the towns.


  8. BayTaper (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 8:13 pm

    I always thought “Frisco” was the real no-no, whereas “San Fran” was a little more accepted by the locals…


  9. Liz Henry (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 10:16 pm

    I tend to say “The City” without thinking. Sometimes when writing “SF” I have to go back and edit it because it’s not clear if I’m talking about San Francisco or science fiction.

    Of course at Borderlands Books you can get your SF in your SF, and nothing needs clarification.


  10. Sean Crowley (unregistered) on December 25th, 2006 @ 10:40 am

    4th generation here and I have to admit, hearing “frisco” and “San Fran” both are like nails on a chalk board! Please introduce me to a person who says SFO…that just makes no sense whatsoevah…last I checked, they don’t let anyone live at the airport.


  11. Bradley Allen (unregistered) on December 25th, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

    I say “San Francisco” or “SF”. Never anything else. I cringe at any other names. And I will flat-out bitch slap anyone who says “SFO” in my presence unless they’re referring to the airport itself. Luckily, for everyone, no one has ever done that. Yet.

    As far as neighborhoods go, I argue that people who say “SOMA” are not actually from here… or either much younger than I am. I live South of Market. Not some wannabe place in NYC. Ugh!


  12. plug1 (unregistered) on December 26th, 2006 @ 11:33 am

    frisco, the sco, sucka free, fo one feva, san fran, The City, call it what you want.

    As far as the neighborhood name SOMA — I lived there for 7 years and called it SO-NO-MA (South of North of Market) as a referecne to Herb Caen calling it “Wine Country” due to all the drunks on 6th/Mission.


  13. cd (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 8:07 am

    ah, the great naming debate – we’ve gone, what, like 89 rounds on this sort of thing here. i’m not complaining about the post, though, the subject is always a conversation starter – as you can see here.

    this post has made me think about whether or not i ever called soma soma. i would know it looking at it. i would right it. but come to think of it, i think i’ve always said the whole name – “south of market” – when speaking out-loud. odd.


  14. rabbit (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 11:23 am

    So in the month since I relocated “home”, I’ve learned definitely don’t call it Frisco, steer away from San Fran, and use SF, The City, or San Francisco if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Oakland/Berkeley/etc I call “across the bay” or the east bay. I still don’t know whether I live in Hayes Valley or Western Addition being at Divisadero and McAllister.

    While I do recognize I’m a transplant, like Kathryn I fell in love with SF the first day I spent here.


  15. anna (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

    My East Bay brother in law calls SF “west bay”. I like that. I worked at the SF branch of a Boston company, and everyone there had gotten some memo, I’m sure, saying to call SF “San Fran”. It really grated. I think it’s because it’s such a hard “A” in Fran. If you have a twang, you really hear it. “Ess Eff” just sounds dapper. I actually like Frisco, but if anyone BUT a local used it, I’d cringe. If you hear locals say “San Francisco”, it ends up sounding like “Sanfan Cisco”. I try to avoid saying “the city” because it’s a joke- I mean, Oakland and San Jose are larger! And city is such an understatement, we’re the cultural/urban hub of the SF Bay, in my opinion, so it’s not really a city, it’s a MECCA. OK I’m in love with SF, there it is.

    NY friend who moved here, and obviously moved away quickly soon after, called it “San FranCheesy”.

    I like the South BurlingBrae. You could add: San Burlingbrae-alto


  16. Lauren (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 4:25 pm

    I still can’t figure out if my new job is in Mission Bay or China Basin or South Beach or SoMA or just “by Caltrain”


  17. lakristopher (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 7:47 pm

    it’s simple folks…

    anyone who is from the bay area knows that san francisco is called “the city,” nothing else…

    the only people who ever say, “san fran” “frisco” or “sf” are not from the bay area… simple.

    and sfo is an airport at noted in the above posts.


  18. sw (unregistered) on December 28th, 2006 @ 8:01 pm

    west bay is another name for the peninsula. calling SF west bay is just wrong


  19. j james (unregistered) on December 28th, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

    while geographically the peninsula is the “west bay”… i’ve never heard anyone call it that.

    we like to call ourselves the peninsula so we can get over our jealousy of living in the city by looking down on the south bay. ha ha ha


  20. Richard (unregistered) on December 28th, 2006 @ 9:57 pm

    Otis Redding calls it Frisco, I’ma call it Frisco.



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