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Do you live in Boston? Rules for describing where you’re from when you’re from here

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Rule No. 1: The closer your questioner is, the more specific you can be

Highway signs leading to Boston. Shutterstock

Every Boston-area resident eventually faces this conundrum: How close to Boston proper does one have to be to say one grew up in/lives in/hails from “Boston”?

After all, the Boston region is an amalgam of dozens of municipalities stretching over much of eastern Massachusetts—even some of southern New Hampshire, depending on the source of the measurement—and containing nearly 4.9 million residents, according to early 2019 Census estimates.

The City of Boston itself is an amalgam of 23 neighborhoods with about 685,000 residents.

It turns out these distinctions don’t matter as much as the audience. So here are the three rules for explaining where you’re from if you’re from around here (h/t to the many Curbed Boston readers who wrote in with suggestions on these):

  • The closer they are, the more specific you can be. If your audience is somebody or somebodies from the Boston area or even Boston proper, then specificity is fine— “Arlington Heights,” “Harvard Square,” “Andrew Square,” “off Columbus Ave. near Copley Place,” etc. They should have at least a vague idea of what you’re talking about.
  • ‘Boston’ will suffice the farther from the region the audience is. If your audience hails from outside of Massachusetts or New England, then “Boston” works. You can always get more specific if pressed. And these interlocutors won’t know the difference between Weston and Somerville anyway. Have fun.
  • If you’re going to say ‘Boston’ to someone who knows better, be prepared to name the neighborhood. When all is said and done, claiming residency in Boston proper means having to delineate your home neighborhood or micro-neighborhood (e.g., Savin Hill if you’re from Dorchester, Grove Hall if you’re from Roxbury). Several readers were adamant about this one: Don’t mess around if you’re really from Boston.