'La Lengua' is San Francisco's new Mission-Bernal Heights microhood 

Like it or not, San Francisco is one of those places where your choice of neighborhood determines a lot about your image. If you live in the Marina, you’re apt to be stereotyped a yuppie. If you live in the Haight, you’re a hippie.

But sometimes just saying you’re from, say, the Mission isn’t enough to really convey where you live and all it entails. Sometimes a more specific subneighborhood name is needed.

So welcome to La Lengua, the Mission district-Bernal Heights microhood that needed a name. Yes, that’s right, it’s Spanish for “the Tongue,” a reference to the district’s shape, its preponderance of eateries serving tongue meat and the active imagination of the dude behind the Burrito Justice blog.

“It started off sort of tongue-in-cheek,” he said, recalling how the inside joke about the neighborhood’s nickname began circulating San Francisco’s lively blog scene about two years ago.

La Lengua is the area west of Bernal Heights Park and east of Noe Valley, the narrow stretch between Mission and Guerrero streets, bordered by 24th and 30th streets on the north and south, respectively.

The blogger, who asked that we only refer to him as JohnnyO in order to maintain his behind-the-scenes status, said he grew tired of people incorrectly calling his neighborhood Noe Valley, Bernal Heights or the Outer Mission. So he and his friends decided they’d give the area a new name. 

“This is a grass-roots thing. I had no motive except that I live here, and I think that it needed a name,” JohnnyO said. But then, something happened — people in real life actually starting calling it La Lengua. And then something else happened — it made the Google map. And not just the way-zoomed-in iteration of the Google map; it was on the at-large San Francisco map.

Asked about the new neighborhood, which appears at the same zoom level as more established San Francisco markers such as Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, Google public affairs officers sent a stock response saying they determine neighborhood names by “authoritative sources we work with to build the basemap.”

JohnnyO said he did nothing to prompt the Google change.  He said it probably has to do with the area’s growing tech-worker demographic. Someone at Google probably just thought it was funny, he said.

“It’s better than letting real estate agents name it,” JohnnyO said.

So far, major media outlets have thrown around names such as SoCha (South of Cesar Chavez), but as he was walking with his 2-year-old daughter last week, JohnnyO said in the end, all that matters is what people actually call it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a hipster thing,” JohnnyO said. “I think it’s what happens when hipsters grow up and have kids ... they come and live in La Lengua.”


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Dan Schreiber

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