Compass stock photo from Zerbor/Shutterstock.

When do you say DC or the Washington region? Where is, and isn’t, Anacostia? What about Silver Spring? Is it US-1 or Route 1? Is National Landing okay? The DMV?

Greater Greater Washington mainly follows Associated Press style, but we’ve developed our own style guide with rules for terms we use often. Reading publications’ style guides can be a lot of fun (if you’re a language nerd, at least), as we saw when the Washington City Paper published their guide in 2014 or WAMU’s Jordan Pascale recently tweeted pieces of the 1989 Washington Post style guide.

We divide ours into a few sections: general rules for headlines, punctuation, numbers, etc.; geographic place names; and other specific terms. Here are our place names. What do you notice? Is anything missing?

Geographic terms

General rules for discussing locations
When writing about a city or neighborhood, specify if it is in DC, Maryland, or Virginia (and which county it is in) if you think that a typical resident of the region, particularly an inside-the-Beltway jurisdiction with only basic geographic understanding of the region may not know where it is. For example, there’s no need to identify where Silver Spring, Rosslyn, or Capitol Hill are, but it would help to explain the location of Stafford County (outside the Washington region by many measures), or Somerset or Capitol View (small incorporated jurisdictions inside the Beltway).

When identifying the state, avoid the postal style (Columbia, MD) and instead work the state into the text in other ways (Columbia, a planned community in Maryland). You should always distinguish places that could be confusing, such as Woodridge (in northeast DC) from Woodbridge (in Prince William County).

Addresses in the District of Columbia all have quadrants, which are written as two-letter abbreviations and set off by commas such as Rhode Island Avenue, NE. Include the quadrants for District addresses the first time you mention a street, unless it’s already clear from context where it is. For example, if the article refers to in Dupont Circle then a reference to 17th Street clearly means 17th Street, NW. If referring to an intersection, only write the quadrant once. It’s also fine not to use quadrants for streets that are unique to one quadrant.

Alexandria
An independent city in Virginia. Also, the Postal Service designation for parts of Fairfax County that are not in the City of Alexandria. Alexandria alone is acceptable to refer to the city; if a more formal title is appropriate, use City of Alexandria. Do not use Alexandria alone to refer to the Fairfax County areas. It is acceptable to say the Alexandria section of Fairfax County if necessary, though better to clarify a more specific area (Huntington, etc.)

Anacostia
A river in DC (Anacostia River), a Metro station, and a neighborhood, often called Historic Anacostia. Ensure any use is clear (The rider got off the Green Line at Anacostia; her house in Anacostia has a large tree). Do not use to refer to the entire area east of the Anacostia River. See East of the Anacostia River.

Barry Farm
A public housing complex near Anacostia which is slated for mixed-income redevelopment. While technically incorrect, Barry Farms is a widely-used alternative, including by residents, and some organizations have or formerly had it in their names. Prefer Barry Farm but a post author may choose which to use based on personal preference. If using Barry Farms, include a note like (formally Barry Farm, but many residents say Barry Farms) to clarify.

Bethesda
See discussion under Silver Spring.

Capital Beltway
See Highways.

Chevy Chase
A term for a neighborhood in DC, several incorporated places in Montgomery County, and unincorporated areas in Montgomery County. If talking about the DC neighborhood, call it Chevy Chase DC on first mention (an exception to the rule against referring to towns with postal state abbreviations, but this is actually what people who live there call it).

If talking about one of the incorporated places such as the Town of Chevy Chase or Chevy Chase Section Five, use the official name when first mentioning the place. Chevy Chase alone is acceptable on subsequent mentions as long as its use is unambiguous.

District of Columbia
A unique hybrid of city and state that is specially designated in the US Constitution as a federal district. Call it the District of Columbia, the District (always with a capital letter), or DC. Do not use periods as in D.C. It is acceptable to use the generic term the city on subsequent mentions (e.g. There are many neighborhoods in DC, but the city remains somewhat segregated) as long as it will not introduce confusion with any other city.

The DMV
A term some use to refer to DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Do not use this term. See Washington region for alternatives. This abbreviation also refers to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the name of the agency in most states which licenses drivers and motor vehicles; it is fine to call that agency the DMV.

East of the Anacostia River
The areas of DC lying east (and south) of the Anacostia River. Some say East of the River, River East, or (in the case of Vincent Gray) East End. Since there is no consensus proper noun, prefer east of the Anacostia River or east of the Anacostia (words besides the river’s name in lowercase, because the full term is not a proper noun).

Definitely do not use Southeast to refer to the area (see that entry for more), or Anacostia (one neighborhood but not the whole section of the city). Avoid saying Wards 7 and 8 because, first, part of Ward 7 is west of the Anacostia, and because ward boundaries are not familiar to most people. Also see Anacostia.

Eye Street
This term (plus a quadrant) is acceptable for any of the DC streets named I Street, for clarity. Also First Street over 1st (and Half Street, which is never written ½ Street) are acceptable for those streets.

Fairfax
Names for a county in Virginia and also an independent city wholly surrounded by, but not part of, the county. Use Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax on first mentions. Subsequently, Fairfax City is acceptable. Simply Fairfax is also acceptable for subsequent mentions if it would not cause confusion, such as when the article is entirely about one and not the other.

Highways
Some roads have state or US highway numbers and also local road names. In most cases, they should be referred to with their local names and not the numbers: 7th Street, Georgia Avenue, not US Route 29 or Route 97 in Maryland). Exceptions should be made if:

  1. local usage prefers the number,
  2. the road changes names and the area being discussed spans multiple names, or
  3. the name memorializes Confederate soldiers.

Interstate highways should be referred to by an I and the number everywhere (I-66), except when specifically discussing a bridge that carries them, in which case name the bridge and, if not already clear from context, tell the reader which interstate uses it. The Capital Beltway is an exception; see below.

When numbers are used for US highways, write e.g. US Route 50, not US-50; US can be dropped on subsequent mentions. State highways, if using numbers, can be referred to as Route 32 or Maryland Route 32, depending on whether the state is already clear; do not use MD-32.

In some cases listed below, on first mention the number and name should both be provided to clarify when people may be unfamiliar with the name. It is always acceptable to add the number as a parenthetical if this is likely to add familiarity to readers (though in most cases, the number is less familiar rather than more).

The following list gives specific guidance for particular roads:

In the District:

  • Memorial Bridge: Formally Arlington Memorial Bridge; either is acceptable for the bridge connecting the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Note that both ends are actually inside the District of Columbia because Columbia Island, the island containing the circle on the west side, is part of DC.
  • 14th Street bridges: The complex of bridges carrying I-395 across the Potomac. Use this for the name of the bridge rather than the little-used names of the individual spans like Arland D. Williams, Jr. Memorial Bridge.
  • DC Route 295 (for clarity from the adjacent I-295, not just Route 295 on first mention), not Kenilworth Avenue or the Anacostia Freeway.

In Maryland:

  • US Route 29: Use both name (Columbia Pike, Colesville Road) and number on first mention. On later mentions, favor name if talking about a smaller area and number if the area being discussed spans names.
  • Pennsylvania Avenue or Southern Maryland Boulevard (Route 4): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Route 32, not the Patuxent Freeway or Sykesville Road.
  • Route 100, not the Paul T. Pitcher Memorial Highway.
  • Intercounty Connector (Route 200): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Kenilworth Avenue (Route 201): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Indian Head Highway (Route 210): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Route 355: If writing about a segment with a single name (Wisconsin Avenue, Rockville Pike, Hungerford Drive, Frederick Road, Frederick Avenue, Urbana Pike, Worthington Boulevard, Market Street), use both name and number on first mention and name thereafter. If writing about an area that spans names, use the number.
  • Route 410 in Prince George’s County, but in Montgomery County East-West Highway (Route 410) on first mention, and East-West Highway on later mentions.
  • The Capital Beltway is signed as both I-95 and I-495 on the eastern half, and I-495 only on the western half. It should be referred to as the Beltway and not by number.

In Virginia:

  • Richmond Highway (US Route 1) for US Highway 1 on first mention. Either is acceptable on subsequent mentions.
  • Route 7: If writing about a segment with a single name (Leesburg Pike, Broad Street, King Street), use both name and number on first mention and name thereafter. If writing about an area that spans names, use the number.
  • Route 28, except where it splits into a pair of one-way streets in downtown Manassas, where it should be named: Church and Center streets.
  • Route 110, not Jefferson Davis Highway.
  • Route 123: If writing about a segment with a single name (Chain Bridge Road, Dolley Madison Boulevard, Maple Ave, Ox Road), use both name and number on first mention and name thereafter. If writing about an area that spans names, use the number.
  • Georgetown Pike (Route 193): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Prince William Parkway (Route 234): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • Dulles Access Road, Dulles Toll Road, and Dulles Greenway (Route 267): Use both the name of the section being discussed and number on first mention.
  • Fairfax County Parkway (Route 286): Use both name and number on first mention.
  • The Capital Beltway is signed as both I-95 and I-495 on the eastern half, and I-495 only on the western half. It should be referred to as the Beltway and not by number.

Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park
The federally-controlled park on 16th Street NW is officially Meridian Hill Park by the National Park Service. 1960s civil rights activists unsuccessfully tried to formally change the name, but Malcolm X Park became the local usage. Use both names with a slash.

Metro station
A stop on Metrorail. Refer to stations as Dupont Circle Metro, or the Dupont Circle Metro station, or Dupont Circle station if it’s clear from context that it refers to Metro. Do not capitalize station. It’s acceptable to then use a station name without the words Metro or station in later mentions.

Some station names are extremely long; use a commonly-recognized short name as much as possible unless doing so would cause confusion (or when critiquing a long name). For example, refer to U Street rather than U St/African-Amer. Civil War Mem’l/Cardozo.

Montgomery County
A county in Maryland. It’s acceptable in headlines and subsequent mentions in an article to refer to the county without the word County. MoCo is acceptable, sparingly, in headlines or tweets but not in article text. (Similar abbreviations for other counties, like ArlCo, are not acceptable; also see Prince George’s County.)

National Airport
Formally, the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but usually referred to as National Airport. On first mention, the full name or shortened version is acceptable (unless National Airport would engender confusion, such as if the reader could be confused between it and the Bill and Hillary Clinton Little Rock National Airport, which is very unlikely).

On subsequent mentions, use just National Airport. Never refer to it as Reagan Airport or Ronald Reagan National Airport; use either the full 5-word name or the short 2-word one. Do not write DCA (the airport code) unless talking about the airport code itself. This rule also applies to the Metro station at the airport.

Nationals ballpark
The baseball stadium in DC. The official name is Nationals Park but Nationals ballpark may be clearer to readers. The second word is lowercase in that form because it is not part of the official proper noun.

National Landing
A marketing term for Crystal City and Pentagon City that arose during the competition for Amazon HQ2 and is under consideration for the name of an expanded Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID). National Landing should only be used when specifically discussing marketing for the HQ2 bid or the potential new BID name itself.

The neighborhoods should be described using their individual names. Crystal City area may be used to describe the larger area.

Northeast
A quadrant of the District. Do not use entirely on its own, like He lives in Northeast. If talking about a place in the quadrant, use Northeast DC. However, prefer instead to talk about an individual neighborhood, like He lives in Riggs Park.

Northwest
A quadrant of the District. Do not use entirely on its own, like He lives in Northwest. If talking about the quadrant, use Northwest DC, but prefer instead to talk about an individual neighborhood, like He lives in Tenleytown. Also see Upper Northwest.

Prince George’s County
A county in Maryland. Avoid the common phrases PG or PG County, as residents do not like these terms. It’s acceptable in headlines and subsequent mentions in an article to refer to the county without the word County.

Rockville
See discussion under Silver Spring.

St. Elizabeths
The former hospital near Congress Heights has no apostrophe in its name. Can abbreviate on later mentions to St. Es, also with no apostrophe.

Silver Spring
An unincorporated area of Montgomery County. The Postal Service uses this as the place name for areas that span from the District line to the edge of Howard County, encompassing much of eastern Montgomery County.

Be careful when using the unqualified term Silver Spring to ensure it can refer to this entire area. If referring to the urbanized center around Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, use downtown Silver Spring (with the first word uncapitalized). Downtown Silver Spring as a proper noun, all capitalized, refers to the semi-public open air mall on either side of Ellsworth Drive between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street.

Similarly, distinguish Rockville and Bethesda, both large areas by the Postal Service’s definition: the City of Rockville, an incorporated area, the urbanized downtowns of each as downtown Rockville and downtown Bethesda, and the privately-developed Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square mixed-use centers. Follow a similar principle for other places often conflated with the surrounding area, such as Gaithersburg, Hyattsville, and Falls Church. (See also Alexandria).

Southeast
A quadrant of the District. Do not use entirely on its own, like He lives in Southeast. If talking about a place in the quadrant, use Southeast DC. However, prefer instead to talk about an individual neighborhood, like He lives in Congress Heights. Definitely do not use this term to refer to all of East of the River, as not all of the Southeast quadrant is east of the Anacostia and not all of the land east of the Anacostia is in the southeast quadrant (some is in Northeast DC).

Southwest
A quadrant of the District. Southwest Waterfront is a neighborhood in DC, sometimes colloquially called Southwest. However, there is other land in the southwest quadrant, including the L’Enfant Plaza area, Bolling Air Force Base, and the Bellevue neighborhood. If referring to the neighborhood, use the full name on first mention; it is okay to abbreviate to Southwest on subsequent mentions if not ambiguous.

Suburbs
This word is sometimes used to refer to every part of the region outside the District of Columbia. However, some parts of Maryland and Virginia are urban or becoming so, and some parts of DC are suburban (for example, downtown Silver Spring is much more urban than the area just across the DC line). Only use suburban to talk about an area’s built form (e.g. this suburban neighborhood opposes bike lanes), not a jurisdiction.

Note that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) does divide counties into core, inner suburbs, and outer suburbs; we do not use that nomenclature and should not call a county or group of counties suburbs. If reporting on analysis from COG using these terms, they can be used in quotation marks with clarification that this is the term from the report. Also, favor using the adjective (a suburban community) over the noun (a suburb).

Takoma Park
An incorporated city in Montgomery County. The DC neighborhood adjacent, and the Metro station contained within, is Takoma.

Tysons Corner
The large commercial area in Fairfax County is now officially Tysons, sans Corner. The Metro station by the mall is still Tysons Corner, and various individual landmarks may still have Corner, such as Tysons Corner Center mall.

Upper Northwest
A term often used for neighborhoods in northwest DC closer to the Maryland line and farther from downtown. There is no clear definition (for example, are neighborhoods like Shepherd Park east of Rock Creek but in the northwest quadrant, in Upper Northwest)? It can, however, be useful to talk about a location not clearly in an easily-recognizable neighborhood.

Be aware of the vagueness of this term and if using it, try to do so in conjunction with other information (such as: A homeless shelter is coming to Idaho Avenue in upper Northwest DC). Prefer in upper Northwest DC (lowercase upper) to reduce the appearance of a proper noun.

Washington region
The area including the District of Columbia and nearby counties in Maryland and Virginia. Exact boundaries vary, but most often used for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV metropolitan statistical area or the members of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). When the precise boundaries are significant, be sure to clarify which definition is being used.

Especially when discussing demographic, income, and real estate statistics, it is important to differentiate whether discussing this or the District itself. Therefore, be careful to only say DC to refer to the District of Columbia and not the entire region. When talking about the region, use the terms Washington region, Greater Washington, or the region. Avoid DC region. If there might be confusion with Washington State, use Washington, DC region.

Prefer region to area especially when talking about the larger set of counties and cities in the Metropolitan Statistical Area or COG.

Wilson Building
The John A. Wilson Building, the seat of the District government including the DC Council chambers and mayor’s offices. Never city hall; see District of Columbia. Some people abbreviate to JAWB but articles should spell out Wilson Building or the full name.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.