Can I call you San Fran? Yes, but not if you want me to answer.

San Francisco at Bospar

If only it were that simple. We strive to always treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve, so why shouldn’t that apply to one of the most diverse, complex and culture-rich cities, San Francisco?  We at Bospar wanted to know, so for the second consecutive year, we conducted a San Francisco Naming Day Survey, focusing this time on respondents in other English-speaking countries. 

The 2019 survey was commissioned by Bospar and was conducted online by Propeller Insights. More than 1,500 residents of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. were surveyed.

Since changing and improving perceptions is what we do best, we took a page out of our own playbook to make the news timely and relevant. This is why the survey coincides with San Francisco celebrating its 172nd naming anniversary. Here’s are some key learnings from the survey:   

The good, the bad and the ugly.

We found that 71 percent of those surveyed call San Francisco by its proper name. Unfortunately, that means that 29 percent don’t. Instead, they use “San Fran” or “The Golden Gate City” and a handful of less popular names. In fact, 30 percent of Canadians and 27 percent of Australians and New Zealanders use the highly despised nickname of “San Fran.” Respondents from the U.K. are most likely to call San Francisco by its proper name.  Thank you.

Now for the bad part–24 percent of respondents don’t care. They said they would keep calling San Francisco “San Fran” or “Frisco” even if they know how much it bugs locals. And 25 percent of respondents said they would insist on calling California “Cali” if it annoyed Californians. Again, we at Bospar had to know why. So we asked. And half of the respondents said because it is shorter.  Really?  Three syllables creates a pain point? That’s like texting TY instead of typing out the full “thank you.” By contrast, New Zealanders refer to themselves as “Kiwis” and for good reason.  The kiwi has a special significance for the indigenous Māori people. I dare you to find a local San Francisco resident referring to themselves as a Friscan.

Hollywood, we need your help.

Of those surveyed, a whopping 84 percent said they heard “San Fran” or “Frisco” used in movies, TV, sports and music. Adventure, Escape from Alcatraz, Fog Over Frisco, Basic Instinct, The Frisco Kid, The Magnificent Seven, and White Fang are just a few examples.  And let’s not forget Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay.

One problem, many solutions.

So, under the guise of not presenting a problem without a solution, here are two things collectively we can do.

  1. If you read a travel brochure or other literature that uses San Fran or Frisco, send a nice note or comment that politely asks for updated content that reflects the full and proper name.
  2.  We at Bospar will do our part by repeating the survey, issuing and distributing the news, creating content, and presenting you with the facts. We will let you know how the perception has improved and about any other progress we can report. It’s what we do best.

In closing, thank you to the estimated 26 million people who visited San Francisco in 2018. We hope you enjoyed the many landmarks and events we have to offer, including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Coit Tower, San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, sporting events, shopping, and theater. All we ask in return is that you let your friends and family know you had a great time in San Francisco.

An Open Letter to Neil Patrick Harris

Niel Patrick Harris at Bospar
Curtis Sparrer, Bospar principal, with Charles Fracchia, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and president emeritus of the SF Museum & Historical Society.

Dear Neil Patrick Harris,

I hope you enjoyed your visit to San Francisco on the 27th.  I learned about it when I was searching for people who used “San Fran” in their Twitter feed.  I wasn’t surprised by a lot of the people I found in the month of January: mostly tourists and conservatives, like Sean Hannity and Chuck Woolery.

It’s no surprise tourists like “San Fran.”  It’s cute and short and implies a sense of intimacy with our city – unless you talk to the people who actually live here.  In 2018 my PR agency Bospar published their findings with Propeller Insights about the nicknames that are and are not acceptable to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“San Fran” is not one of them.

Nor is “Frisco.”

Quite simply, it drives the locals nuts.

“It is vitally important to call the city ‘San Francisco’ over ‘San Fran,’” said Charles Fracchia, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and president emeritus of the SF Museum & Historical Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the history of San Francisco. “Utilizing the full name of any person or place gives it dignity, and I believe ‘San Francisco’ deserves to be referred to by its full name.”

We did further research this year into why tourists call San Francisco “San Fran” and discovered that most of them got it from popular culture.  Other people simply liked that it was shorter.

But in both years of this study we discovered something troubling: there is a group of people that no matter what will insist on using “San Fran” even if it bothers the locals.  In our international study, we discovered that Australians and New Zealanders were most likely to troll us with “San Fran” while the British were the least likely to do so.  In the United States, the people most likely to say “San Fran” are conservatives, who view “San Fran” as a fun epithet because they know it annoys the liberals who call the Bay Area home.  It’s no surprise that Sean Hannity and Chuck Woolery both use “San Fran.”

Which brings me back to your visit. 

On January 24 you promoted your upcoming event at SF Sketchfest, tweeting, “Looking forward to it, San Fran.”  

I don’t know if you noticed, but your fans were not impressed.  @NorCalGal56 wrote: “No. No. Please NO, NPH! It’s never ‘San Fran.’ Only ‘San Francisco’ or, if you’re a local, ‘The City.’ Please. Thank you so very much. (Loved when you’ve hosted the Tony Awards!).” 

@DMac added: “You know it’s ‘the city.’ ‘San Fran’ is a tourist trap.”

@0xEugene even sent you a warning: “Expect to get booed if you call it ‘San Fran’ here.” 

I even self-servingly inserted our research into that thread, hoping you would see it – and even quote me!

Why is this so important to us? 

It’s a good question.

In fact, when I shared my appearance last week on the local ABC affiliate about our research on “San Fran,” a friend of mine posted a note on LinkedIn, saying in effect: “So what? There are more important things going on.  There’s a government shutdown.  Nearly a million people are without a paycheck.  Trump is still president.”

And I responded: you’re right.

But then I added that this very issue highlights the central issue of our time during this administration.   Using a person’s or place’s accepted name is a vital part of their dignity, communicating your level of respect.  While it may seem trivial, doing the exact opposite follows in the footsteps of President Trump, who belittles his enemies with names like “Pocahontas” or “Crooked Hillary.”  I would argue that calling people by their preferred name is not just the fundamental challenge of public relations but also the challenge of our time.  Nothing more than civility is at stake.

The friend deleted his note.

So why I am singling you out?  Why don’t I address others who use “San Fran,” like Kanye West or his wife, Kim Kardashian West?  Or even Travel + Leisure, which as a purported expert in tourism should be able to tell its readers that “San Fran” is not acceptable?

Quite simply, because I believe  we have a lot in common. You’re ostensibly a sensitive liberal.  After our own personal struggles, we both came out, got married, and started living our lives thanks in part to the actions of the liberals who call San Francisco home. Once I moved to San Francisco, I learned that the right name to call it was “San Francisco,” followed by “SF” or “The City.”

I’m hoping that can be you, too.

Thank you for your consideration,
Curtis Sparrer
Principal, Bospar PR

San Francisco vs. San Fran – What Should You Call It?

San Francisco in 1891Bospar’s “headquarters” is in San Francisco, and most of our employees live in the Bay Area. So, we have an unusual interest in what we see as the city’s basic branding problem.

Let me explain. It all goes back to January 30, 1847, when San Francisco’s mayor, Lieutenant Washington Allon Bartlett, dealt with San Francisco’s first PR crisis: what to call the place.

Local merchants in the burgeoning port city thought that the name at the time, Yerba Buena, wasn’t as well known as the far more famous San Francisco Bay. Meanwhile, General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was considering naming piece of land in the East Bay after his wife, Francisca. That pushed Lieutenant Bartlett into action: he renamed Yerba Buena “San Francisco,” and General Vallejo had to settle with naming his parcel of land “Benicia”—his wife’s middle name.

But 171 years later, the name “San Francisco” hasn’t completely stuck. While residents of the city are almost unanimous in calling it by its proper name, visitors often use nicknames like “San Fran” and “Frisco,” not realizing they sound like nails on chalkboard to locals.

“It is vitally important to call the city ‘San Francisco’ over ‘San Fran,’” said Charles Fracchia, cofounder of Rolling Stone magazine and president emeritus of the SF Historical Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the history of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. “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.”

So, we thought we would do a public service for all San Franciscans who hate hearing “San Fran” or “Frisco” and do some PR on the matter. For starters we teamed up with Propeller Insights to find out what residents call the city versus what non-residents say. Propeller Insights surveyed 200 U.S. residents from the San Francisco Bay Area and over 1,000 non-residents on January 18-19, 2018.

The majority (65 percent) of San Franciscans and people who live in the surrounding Bay Area use “San Francisco” when referring to the city. Forty-six percent also call it “The City,” and 37 percent call it “SF.” While one in five residents admit to sometimes calling it “San Fran,” and 9 percent admit to sometimes calling it “Frisco,” if forced to choose only one name to call it, 75 percent of residents would go with “San Francisco”—only 1 percent of San Francisco residents would choose “San Fran,” and only 4 percent would choose “Frisco.”

Luckily, the majority of non-residents (67 percent) also prefer to call San Francisco by its proper name, but a much higher percentage go with alternatives, including “San Fran” (28 percent) and “Frisco” (13 percent), as well as some nostalgic nicknames like “Golden Gate City” and “City by the Bay” (15 percent each).

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (1916–1997) coined “Baghdad by the Bay” when he first relocated to the city: “years ago, this wide-eyed kid from Sacramento dubbed it Baghdad-by-the-Bay, a storybook city of spires and minarets, gay banners fluttering in the breeze.” However, contemporary residents (79 percent) and visitors (73 percent) alike find “Baghdad by the Bay” the most off-putting name for San Francisco, followed by “Fog City” by visitors (49 percent) and “Frisco” for residents (52 percent).

Caen also took a stand on using Frisco: “Not Frisco but San Francisco. Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. That’s the way Easterners, like Larry King, pronounce it. It’s more like SanfrnSISco, all one word minus a syllable.”

So, if people know that saying “San Fran” is like fingernails on a chalkboard, will they stop doing it? Overwhelmingly the answer is yes: just over two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) said they would change their ways. However, there are some trolls who will insist on using the wrong name no matter what. Who are these people?

  • Men (41 percent) are almost twice as likely as women (24 percent) to keep saying “San Fran”
  • Millennials (35 percent) and Gen Xers (37 percent) are most likely to keep using “San Fran,” but more than three-quarters of Boomers (76 percent) would cut it out
  • By income level, people bringing home $150-$200K (55 percent) are much more likely to persist in using “San Fran” than people bringing home less than $50K (30 percent)

“With roughly two-thirds of locals in favor of calling San Francisco by its proper name – ‘San Francisco’ – it’s clear that there’s an appreciation of the city’s name and the tradition associated with it,” said Gabrielle Ferdman-Ayala, Principal of Propeller Insights. “While ‘Frisco’ is easy and catchy, it’s likely to result in some raised eyebrows or eye rolls and might even expose you as an outsider. If you really insist on using a nickname, opt for the one most locals prefer – ‘The City.’”

Ultimately this is a branding problem we hope we can fix. Granted, one press release and a blog entry do not change practices overnight, but at Bospar we believe PR can be transformative and effective if used on a regular basis. Our hope is that journalists, bloggers—and, frankly, anyone who loves San Francisco—will spread the word that the best name for the City by the Bay is the one it got on January 30, 1847.