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People around the world insist on using ‘San Fran’

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Something must be done

The SF skyline photographed from the piers. Photo by the.supreme.reality/Shurtterstock

In 2018, San Francisco-based PR firm Bospar stirred up trouble with a survey of Bay Area residents that revealed many denizens insist on calling San Francisco “San Fran” or “Frisco.”

Arguments about whether it’s appropriate to nickname the city are almost as old as the San Francisco name itself—an admonition against using “Frisco” is popularly attributed to Emperor Norton in 1872 and later to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. (These days, many natives use the term affectionately.)

While most residents refer to their city as “San Francisco,” terms like “San Fran” and “SF” remain common, according to the Bospar survey—no matter how annoying people find them.

Not content at leaving bad enough alone, Bospar conducted a second survey this year to determine if people in other primarily English-speaking countries (including Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia) call San Francisco “San Francisco” or not.

Here are some of the results:

  • The city’s full name remains the most popular globally. According to Bospar, 71 percent of those surveyed in the four non-U.S. countries say they “usually call San Francisco by its proper name.”
  • The city’s full name is most popular in the UK. Of those surveyed in the United Kingdom, 76 percent call San Francisco by its full name. The next most popular UK term is, surprisingly, “Golden Gate City” (15 percent), with “San Fran” coming in third at 14 percent.
  • “San Fran” is popular in Canada. In Bospar’s sample, 30 percent of Canadians call the city “San Fran,” as do 27 percent of Australians and Kiwis (New Zealanders). “Golden Gate City” is also a fairly widespread term, with about 28 percent of those surveyed in those three countries using either “Golden Gate City” or the heretofore unmentioned moniker “Golden City.”
  • These are fighting words. Of those surveyed, 24 percent said they would continue using terms like “San Fran,” “Frisco,” or “Cali” “even if they knew it drove Californians nuts.”
  • “Baghdad By the Bay” has come and gone. With apologies to Herb Caen, this venerable term seems on the verge of retirement, ranking among the least used terms locally and around the world. Modern geopolitics has not been kind to it.
  • Everyone still loves the bridge. Asked what they associate with the name San Francisco, the most popular response (51 percent) was the Golden Gate Bridge. The bay itself came in second place with 41 percent, with Alcatraz, the 49ers, and “LGBT community” also standing out. References to the housing or homeless crisis were scant.
Photo by RichartPhotos/Shutterstock

Keep in mind that those willing to bear a grudge over the city’s bad name(s) should nevertheless spare allied nations their ire; the real culprit is closer to home.

According to survey results, “Of those who call San Francisco ‘San Fran’ or ‘Frisco,’ the number-one reason (84 percent) was that they heard the nickname in popular culture: movies, music, TV, and sports.”

Hollywood will be the end of us yet.

Bospar conducted the survey online over three days in January, accruing roughly 1,500 responses. Those who want to rage over the full results can find them here.

San Francisco’s proper name will celebrate its 172nd birthday soon; on January 30, 1847, the city’s Chief Magistrate Washington Bartlett changed the name from “Yerba Buena” with the following order:

Whereas the local name of Yerba Buena, as applied to the settlement or town of San Francisco, is unknown beyond the district; and has been applied from the local name of the cove, on which the town is built:

Therefore, to prevent confusion and mistakes in public documents, and that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the public map; IT IS HEREBY ORDAINED, that the name of SAN FRANCISCO shall hereafter be used in all official communications and public documents, or records appertaining to the town.

Someone presumably called it “Frisco” minutes later.