The short answer: DUMBO stands for
“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”
According to Crane Davis, a writer and producer who lived in the neighborhood from 1976 to 2006, he was part of the “naming committee” in 1978:
A naming committee consisting of Selby Beebe, Crane Davis, Monte Davis and John Donovan was appointed. After much sitting around and drinking beer, to a point where none of us could remember who had suggested what, we came up with two alternatives:
DUMBO: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass
DANYA: District Around the Navy Yard Annex
The choice was presented to the community at a huge loft party and the results weren’t even close. It was DUMBO by a landslide. Everyone agreed that it had just the right kind of Dadaist anti-marketing positioning to protect our turf from developers: who, after all, would spend a million dollars for a loft in a place called DUMBO?
That seems pretty clear. But is that what it should stand for?
Over the years, some revisionists have made a case that the neighborhood, which was once called Two Bridges, would be more accurately described as “Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses.” As one Dumbo NYC writer put it in 2007:
If you think about it, “Bridge” and “Overpass” are redundant and it sounds like there is an overpass that goes OVER the Manhattan Bridge. A colleague of mine, whose friends are friends with Jed Walentas, told me that she read an article on the Walentas family where DUMBO was defined as “Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses,” which makes more sense. And, if you google that meaning, you get quite a few hits.
Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it does make sense, sort of. (Not so much the part about leaving out the word bridge. As one commenter put it: “What’s a Manhattan Overpass? What’s a Brooklyn Overpass?”) It is a little strange, though, that the Brooklyn Bridge is left out of the acronym.
Still, once you start messing with the name, it’s anarchy. The next thing you know, someone will say it stands for “Developers Using Manufacturing Buildings Otherwise” or is it
“Diddly-squat Under a Million Bucks, Obviously”
In truth, what Dumbo stands for is nothing more than an anecdote. Dumbo is Dumbo.
Now if we can only figure out whether it should be spelled in all-caps or not.