Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to television station WDVM-TV as WDMV. This version has been corrected.

After initial obscurity, 'The DMV' nickname for Washington area picks up speed

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

New York is "the Big Apple" and Chicago "the Windy City," but unless the earnest and obvious "Nation's Capital" is your idea of a cool handle, Washington and its environs have never gotten very far in the civic nickname game.

We are pleased to report, however, that this could be changing. A nickname has recently emerged that could put the Washington area on the regional nickname map: the DMV. As in, D for the District, M for Maryland, and V for Virginia.

Sleek, succinct and inclusive, the name has been in common use for several years among the area's -- ahem, the DMV's -- hip-hop and go-go music crowd. It's familiar to listeners of black-oriented radio stations such as WKYS-FM and WPGC-FM, whose DJs decorate their patter with mentions of it. It also pops up as geographical shorthand ("DMV man seeks woman") on Craigslist, the classified-ad Web site.

It's safe to say, however, that most of the rest of the DMV's populace is unaware that the DMV refers to anything other than a certain sluggish city bureaucracy. Although the phrase has appeared irregularly in The Washington Post, most mainstream news sources haven't picked up on it.

At least not yet. As place names go, "the DMV" has much to recommend it, especially compared with the other ways this odd sandwich of two states and a midsize municipality have been commonly referred to. "The Delmarva" might describe a peninsula incorporating three states, but it overlooks the populous center of the area. "The National Capital Region" seems stiff and bureaucratic.

(Scene In: A look at what's hip in the DMV)

"I prefer 'the Washington Metropolitan Area,' but I realize that doesn't quite ring well as a lyric, e-mail or text message," says Sandy Bellamy, executive director of the Historical Society of Washington. "So, I guess my geographic situation calls for a situationist response. I live 'in the DMV' according to young, local digital colloquialism, [and] in the 'Washington Metropolitan Area' to the rest of the world, and in 'D.C.' to my peers."

* * *

As hip locutions go, "the DMV" might even be displacing "Chocolate City," the olde tyme designation for black Washington. For all its racial echoes and connotations, "Chocolate City" is increasingly limited; Washington's suburbs have grown exponentially since the term was in vogue and are now home to more African Americans than the District itself.

Another favorable attribute: Like "the Bay Area" or "the Southland" (a somewhat hoary place name for Southern California), "the DMV" recognizes that the area is more than just one city.

It seems important now, even vital, for metropolitan regions to cultivate self-respect by having cool nicknames. Houston is H-Town. Minneapolis, like lots of other cities that exalt their area codes, is the 612. Cincinnati -- and we are not making this up -- is the 'Nati.

We would congratulate the originator of "the DMV," but it's not clear who should get the props. Bellamy isn't sure where the name came from. She suggests this clever coinage may have originated as location shorthand on Craigslist. Some years ago, she says, people advertising apartments or seeking roommates or relationships began specifying "DMV."

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