Beirut districts, and in particular that of Ashrafieh, got their names from different origins, about which even historians sometimes also disagree. These origins may come from a feature of the district (vegetation, geography), the surname of a notable family that lived there, or an erected building (notably a church).
Names resulting from neighborhood characteristics
The name "Ashrafieh” evokes itself the geography of this district situated on a hill of east Beirut. Indeed, the word Ashrafieh refers to “Ashraf” elite in Arabic. It stands for "a place above the other, overlooking the land” from below ". However, historians were divided into two movements regarding the origins of the name. While some believe that the district owes its name to the geographic location, height, others think that the designation of the district has historical roots that date from the Ottoman period: the name of Ashrafieh would derive, according to them, from the name of Ashraf Pasha, Ottoman leader, that was given to the neighborhood in honor of his mandate.
Etymologically, the term "Gemayzeh" comes from "Gemayz", which meant a giant fig tree bearing tiny fruits: A hundred years ago, the area surrounding the ancient city of Beirut was lush with these figs. The current district of Gemayzeh was then an uninhabited place.
Names resulting from a patronymic
Districts names may also correspond to a family surname. On the eve of 1943, six Beiruti families formed the most favored and most prestigious category of Beirut. At that time, each family unit corresponded to an individual social unit, to a patronymic group each having its own history, its heritage, its own status. The names of some Ashrafieh districts come precisely from the surname of great families, in which they had set up a property.
This type of family (which existed between the late 19th century to early 20th), is that of the extended family, which includes all parents, brothers, cousins and their wives. This extended family could own a well defined property in the district, sometimes named! after the family’s surname.
In 1945, there was a fragmentation of the family property into smaller parcels, this fragmentation means that the property isn’t inherited by the son or the brothers but is sold or transferred to another family. A commercialization of the family name was taking place to designate different areas of the city. This applies, for example, to Sursock and Siouffi districts.
Names deriving from buildings or from a patron
Saint Nicolas district
Saint Nicolas or Mar Nqoûla district, gets its name from the Greek Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Nicolas, and which is located in this sector.
In 1875, Father Monnot dedicated "his" school to St. Joseph and opened its! doors to all students in the city. Saint Joseph University was inaugurated in 1881 and then the French Faculty of Medicine in 1888. USJ founder gave his name to a street, and by expansion to the district surrounding the university.
The Nasra district, have the designation of the school founder, established by the Ladies of Nazareth.
The Jesuit garden
In Jeitawi, the setting was still enough pastoral to host the house of the Jesuits – that later on, gave its name to the future public park “Jesuit garden”.