One thing is certain: Dumbo was not named for Disney’s flying elephant.
Another surety is that Dumbo is an acronym, meaning it is a word formed from the first letters of a series of words. It is generally accepted that in this case the series of words is Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, used to describe the area located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.
Occasionally, it is called Between the Bridges. And some consider Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses a more accurate description. (Another suggested tag was Danya, for District Around the Navy Yard Annex, but Dumbo won out.)
Late-night comics — Jerry Seinfeld is generally credited with the line — suggested that Dumbo stands for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge,” but that the “O” was added at the end because they did not want to live in a neighborhood called “Dumb.”
The area, between Vinegar Hill and Fulton Ferry and bordered by Main St. on the west to Jay St. on the east and from the East River on the north to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the south, had over the years been known variously as Rapailie (after the Dutch family that owned the land in the 18th century), Fulton Landing, Olympia, Gairville (after industrialist Robert Gair) and Walentasville (after real estate developer David Walentas).
Many presume the name Dumbo came from real estate brokers who made up a new name, like SoHo or Tribeca, to make the area at least sound more desirable for would-be tenants.
Closer to the truth is that residents in the late 1970s, many of them artist loft tenants at the time, came up with the name to discourage developers. Who would want to live or work in a place called Dumbo?
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook. He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.