After several recent encounters with houses with names, I have been pondering the phenomenon. Grand estates lend themselves to names. Do lesser abodes deserve to be named as well? What does the name of the house say about the namer? Just how famous do you need to be to name the house after yourself?

Up The Mount

The Mount in the Berkshires announced the social stature of its owner, Edith Wharton. It sits on a small rise, not a mountain, but then the name alludes to the lofty social position of the great writer.

The Vanderbilts’ Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, describes the mansion perfectly. But ironically the Vanderbilts referred to it as a cottage. I suspect that the Vanderbilts knew that the words marble and cottage are not normally used in the same sentence when describing a house.

Faded glory of Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens in East Hampton, New York, owned at one time by an aunt and cousin of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, was named after an estate in England. The intent behind the name was probably to convey cachet. It’s ironic then that, after the 1972 film documentary and more recent Broadway musical about the squalor that Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale lived in, Grey Gardens now conjures images of rotting food, broken windows, and raccoon squatters.

Often on this blog, I have written about Howlets, a stone house in Folly Cove, Massachusetts built by the Hale family. Despite a family history encompassing Nathan Hale, Edward Everett Hale, Harriet Beacher Stowe, the painters Ellen Day Hale, Philip Leslie Hale, and Lilian Westcott Hale, and oddly enough, Helen Keller, the Hales nevertheless chose to name their summer home Howlets, meaning baby owls. The name suggests a certain humility.

Naming a house after your self is the ultimate act of ego. Sometimes it seems earned. One thousand-acre Appleton Farms, a land grant to Samuel Appleton in 1638, is the oldest continuous working farm in Massachusetts. This Ipswich, Massachusetts farm hosted many luminaries in its day, including the Duke of Windsor who hunted foxes on horseback there. As recently as a few years ago an Appleton still lived on the farm. It is currently owned by The Trustees of the Reservation and is very much an active farm. After nearly four centuries, the Appleton name has proved its staying power.

And sometimes naming a place after your self is just an indicator of a healthy self-regard. I recently stumbled over two such homes in Palm Springs, California. Villa Fontaine is named after the film and stage actress Joan Fontaine and Casa Liberace named after the pianist and vocalist. (Somehow the descriptor “pianist and vocalist” seems so inadequate to describe him, doesn’t it)? A good sense of self is important in life and absolutely vital in the entertainment business. The ownership of these homes has long passed to others, but the original plaques proudly remain. Staying power of a different sort.

LeFrak City is a sprawling 5,000-apartment complex in Queens, New York built in the 1960s. In his day, the developer Samuel LeFrak was the Donald Trump of his time. Years later, when LeFrak was asked about Donald Trump and his building of Trump Tower, LeFrak sagely responded, “a peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.”

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