Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

DC history FAQ – Naming the city and District

Q. Where did D.C. get its name?

A. Residence Bill July 16, 1790 established a site along the Potomac to be the Capital. It was not named until 1791.

From the Commissioners to Pierre L’Enfant:

Georgetown, September 9, 1791

“Sir:

We have agreed that the Federal district shall be called the ‘Territory of Columbia’ and the Federal city the ‘City of Washington.’ The title of the map will therefore be, A Map of the City of Washington, in the Territory of Columbia.

We have also agreed the streets to be named alphabetically one way and numerically the other, the former divided into north and south letters, the latter into east and west numbers, from the Capitol.

Signed
Th[omas] Johnson
D[avid] Stuart
Dan[iel] Carroll

In:
Records of the Columbia Historical Society v.35/36 p.70
Thomas Jefferson and the National Capital p.74.
Busey, Samuel. Pictures of Washington in the Past p.35

Noted in:
Stephenson A Plan Whol[l]y New p.43, 76
Proctor Washington Past and Present, v.1, p.48.
Green Washington p.14
Bowling The Creation of Washington, D.C. p. 225
Arnebeck Through a fiery trial. p.61-2
Tindall Standard history of the city of Washington p. 121

Name changed to District of Columbia in 1793 [Busey, p.36]
The Commissioners left no record as to how or why the names were chosen.

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