Welcome to Boston, tech wizard/financial planner/GE executive! Your new apartment has elegant fixtures, stainless appliances, underground parking, a fireplace, and a view of the harbor in a gleaming new building.
But that name, though.
All over Greater Boston, luxurious new living quarters are sprouting up like gleaming, modernist weeds. And a lot of them, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, have names. Not names like the apartment building you may have grown up in — “23 Stanley Street” — but Names. The Eddy. VIA. TROY. The Kensington. Watermark. Alloy. The Allele.
Allele is, of course, Adele’s less talented younger sister (you may have heard her hit song: “Hello. It’s me . . . Allele”). No, that’s not right. Since most Americans are fluent in the chromosomal genetic science, we obviously know that an allele is (Googles frantically) a different version of a gene.
Somewhere along the way, we started naming our cats like people and our people like cats. “Meet my son, Plank, and my cat, Bruce.” Now we’re naming our apartment buildings like swanky hotels. Pretty soon hotels won’t even have names, just a picture of a buffalo that looks like a caveman drew it.
“It gives them a little panache,” said Mary Kelleher, a real estate agent with Gibson Sotheby’s International in Boston. “You can say to me ‘150 Dorchester Avenue,’ and you’re like ‘Where the hell is that?’ ”
And because the marketing of high-end apartments and condos sometimes hinges on a little panache, the names race is on.
“We’ve named quite a number of projects,” said Javier Cortes, partner and creative director of KORN Design, a brand strategy and design firm in Boston. “The process involves a fair amount of research — we try to honor the place and its history.”
Remember the “Mad Men” episode where Don Draper sells a slide projector with a speech so thoughtful and impassioned that it sent an ad executive scurrying away in tears? It’s sort of like that, but for high-rises. Cortes and his team whittle down a list of maybe a hundred names to about a dozen that they bring to their clients.
“You want to make sure the name is memorable, applicable, not too hard to pronounce,” Cortes said, and then you have to scan for “egregious meanings in other cultures” — the classic (and largely apocryphal) Chevy Nova problem, in which Spanish-speaking countries allegedly declined to buy a car named “doesn’t go.”
KORN named the Liberty Hotel — it seems obvious now, but when it was an abandoned, rat-infested jail next to the hospital, it didn’t scream “luxury hotel” or “liberty.” Alloy, at Assembly Row in Somerville, was so named because it represents the “fusion” of Boston and Somerville, Cortes said, and echoes the area’s industrial history.
The Eddy, he said, emerged from historical research and calls on three different ideas. Eddy, most simply, sounds a little like Eastie, the neighborhood where the building sits on the water. Robert Henry Eddy, an architect and civil engineer, worked on various early maps of East Boston in the 19th century. And “eddy” describes circular movement in water running counter to the main current.
“If you’re deciding where you’re going to live in Boston, choosing to live in Eastie is a little counter current,” Cortes said. “Here’s a building that’s on the water and runs counter current.”
“It’s OK if you don’t know it on face value. It sounds cool and it works,” Cortes said. “We work hard to make sure there’s very deep meaning.”
But they can’t all be this deep. Right?
Lars Unhjem, vice president of development in Boston for Mill Creek Residential, said Modera Medford earned its name because “Modera” is Mill Creek’s flagship brand nationally (the Medford part is self explanatory).
“No meaning,” Unhjem said in an e-mail, “just a word someone made up.”
“Some of it, honestly?” Kelleher confided, “we pull this stuff out of you-know-where.”
This all started happening in earnest during an earlier building boom, said Colleen Barry, chief executive officer of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.
“The units were getting scooped up. We weren’t really worried, per se, about whether they were going to sell,” Barry said. “What we were starting to think about was how do you distinguish one from another? The idea was to brand these so they each kind of had a different feeling.”
“It was the very early stages of a slightly different way of thinking about development,” Barry said.
As it happens, Kelleher credits Barry with naming The Allele.
The Allele’s name, Kelleher said, grew from a discussion about the building’s concept: All the best elements of loft living (high ceilings, open floor plans) without the drawbacks (sleeping in what is essentially the far corner of the kitchen; commune-level privacy).
“I think ‘allele’ is a biological term — the fusion of two elements,” Kelleher said. “I’m probably simplifying it. Maybe even bastardizing it.”
But not according one of the world’s leading geneticists. Dr. Stephen Elledge is the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He’s also a 2017 recipient of the Breakthrough Prize, which “recognizes paradigm-shifting discoveries in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics,” according to the Harvard Gazette. The board is a who’s who of tech billionaires, and the prize comes with $3 million.
In an e-mail that was surely a profound waste of his very valuable time, Dr. Elledge said collections of alleles account for differences between people — height, eye color, etc. Many of those differences aren’t inherently good or bad.
“I am ok with ‘Allele,’ ” Elledge wrote, emphasizing that the variation they’re referencing isn’t bad — just different. “In this case, I suspect they feel like their change is one for better.”
It is, by all accounts, a lovely place to live.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.