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In San Francisco, Only One City Nickname Flies

by Matthew S. Bajko

Don't call it "Frisco:" Survey respondents prefer to call San Francisco, which turns 171 years old on Tuesday, by its full name or initials.
Don't call it "Frisco:" Survey respondents prefer to call San Francisco, which turns 171 years old on Tuesday, by its full name or initials.  (Source:Courtesy SF Travel)

In the song "San Francisco," made famous by singer Scott McKenzie in 1967, song writer John Edmund Andrew Phillips beseeched those "who come to San Francisco/be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."

He should have added a line also asking visitors to leave behind two nicknames for the city that grate on locals' ears: "Frisco" and "San Fran." For many residents of the City By the Bay, as well as denizens of the wider Bay Area region, both terms are verboten ways to refer to San Francisco.

"I am enough of a native to acquire the hatred for those horrible names," said Jason Howe, whose family over the last 100 years has moved back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where he now lives with his husband and their children.

Howe, a former spokesman for LGBT advocacy groups Equality California and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, lived in the city for several years in his youth and was taught to only refer to the city by its full name or its initials.

"Oh God, no," said Howe when asked if he ever used the other two references that shall not be named (at least in the rest of this article). "They just strike me as incredibly tacky; I can't explain it."

Virginia transplant Gary McCoy, a gay employee of the city's parks department who is a gubernatorial appointee on the California Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, said he knows better than to refer to his new hometown as anything other than San Francisco.

"If I ever shorten it, it is S.F.," said McCoy, adding that when visiting his friends and family members back East he will "very abruptly" correct them if they use the other terms.

"I tell them if you ever visit me, don't ever say that around me," said McCoy.

That sentiment is shared by a majority of San Francisco residents, according to a new survey released by local public relations firm Bospar ahead of the 171st anniversary of the renaming of the Yerba Buena settlement to San Francisco on January 30, 1847.

When asked what they call the city when talking about San Francisco, just over two-thirds of the survey's 1,209 respondents (67.6 percent) said they only use "San Francisco." The rest used either the two options disliked by most locals or some other term.

The differences in preferred names is more pronounced when the survey results are broken down by San Francisco residents and by non-San Francisco residents. Among the 203 locals, 74.9 percent only use "San Francisco," while 66.1 percent of the other 1,006 respondents across the U.S. said they did.

Just 4.4 percent of the city residents copped to using the last two syllables of the city's name, while 1 percent said they use the other two-syllable nickname. While the firm was unable to break out the locals' answers by if they are LGBT or straight, it was able to determine which demographic group based by sexual orientation was more likely to stop using the disliked terms when told they were derided by locals.

The survey question noted that doing so sounds "like fingernails on a chalkboard" to city residents.

According to Bospar, lesbians, at 90 percent, overwhelmingly said they would stop using the terms, while 67 percent of heterosexual respondents said they would drop the terms from their vocabulary. Those identifying as asexual (63 percent) would be most likely to persist in saying the despised nicknames, followed by bisexuals (44 percent) and gay men (41 percent).

Curtis Sparrer, a gay man who is a principal with the PR firm, noted that many of its employees "dread" having to tell other people where their company is headquartered since it inevitably leads to someone using the two hated nicknames for the city.

"The fact that nearly one in three Americans would continue using" them, added Sparrer, "even if they knew those names were annoying is in keeping with other trends we are seeing. America is becoming a more polarized country, with a growing minority enjoying trolling others."

Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Charles Fracchia, who also founded the San Francisco Historical Society in 1988, said in a news release announcing the survey results that "utilizing the full name of any person or place gives it dignity, and I believe 'San Francisco' deserves to be referred to in its full name."

Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Laird, who grew up in Hayward, said everyone she knew in her childhood used either "San Francisco" or "the city." As for the other ways to refer to S.F., "I don't know why people hate it," said Laird, but she acknowledged she finds it "cringe-worthy" when those nicknames are used.

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