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January 30, 2018

Is it ever okay to use “San Fran?”

Survey shows that locals loathe most city nicknames, even though they’re hard to shake

San Francisco accrues new nicknames, pet names, abbreviations, and extra monikers every decade—some of which are famously contentious. The subject of “Frisco,” for example, can result in hours of debate.

In a move that could either settle tempers or inflame them, local PR firm Bospar conducted a survey of Bay Area residents to find out which terms are still in common parlance.

The results: Most people use “San Francisco”—and only San Francisco. But “San Fran” is (alas) an increasingly popular alternative, as is the acronym “SF.” More elaborate and grandiose terms like “Golden Gate City” and “City By the Bay” are less common now, at least in this one sampling.

“It is vitally important to call the city ‘San Francisco’ over ‘San Fran,’” Rolling Stone co-founder and SF Historical Society president Charles Fracchia said in a Bospar press release, insisting that “utilizing the full name of any person or place gives it dignity, and I believe ‘San Francisco’ deserves to be referred to in its full name.”

Be that as it may, not everyone feels San Francisco should just be San Francisco. A recent sampling of 200 revealed the following about city parlance:

  • When asked the “term you use most often,” 41.5 percent said “San Francisco.” 27.5 percent most often call it “The City,” and 12 percent prefer “SF.” Inexplicably, 9 percent say “San Fran,” while “Frisco” hangs around at 4.5 percent.
  • Strangely, 4.5 percent of respondents also say they never say just “San Francisco.” Some 63.5 percent of those polled eschew saying “Frisco,” while 34 percent avoid “San Fran.”
  • But the least popular name is Herb Caen’s “Baghdad By the Bay,” which 80.5 percent of respondents deny ever using and 78.5 percent specifically call “off-putting.” Whether this is because the term now simply feels dated or because the actual city of Baghdad now has a very different context for Americans than in Caen’s day isn’t clear.
  • Also unpopular: “Fog City” (68.5 percent never say it), “Golden City” (67.5 percent), and “Golden Gate City” (60.5 percent).
  • Oddly enough, three people found “San Francisco” off-putting in and of itself.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock

Note that only 15 percent of the responses—30 people in all—were actual San Francisco residents. Some 24.5 percent were from Alameda County (a plurality), while 23.5 hail from Santa Clara County, with the rest residing in other Bay Area metros.

In a separate survey of 203 Bay Area residents, 74.9 percent of locals took a purist stance and said that they “only call it San Francisco.”

Some 12.8 percent admit to using “San Francisco” and “San Fran” interchangeably. A mere 1 percent—so, two people in all—say “San Fran” exclusively, and 4.4 percent report that they say “Frisco” and only “Frisco.”

For the record, Bospar also specifically asked hundreds of non-San Franciscans, “If you learned that saying ‘San Fran’ sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard to the people of San Francisco, would you keep saying it?”

Sixty-seven percent of responses said no, while 33 percent would keep it up anyway.

And finally, there’s no word on what the residents of Frisco, Texas think of all of this. But we’ll keep asking.

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