By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Ask anyone walking up Wall Street what neighborhood they're in, and chances are that they'll answer: Financial District.
Sundeep Bhan and a group of his friends are out to change that. Citing the area's rapidly rising residential population — which has more than tripled in the past 10 years — they want to rechristen the neighborhood South Manhattan, or SoMa for short.
The idea came to Bhan late last year, when he grew tired of the blank stares and tepid responses when he told people that he lived in the Financial District.
"The Financial District doesn't resonate well," said Bhan, 38, an entrepreneur who has lived on Broad Street for the past five years. "We don't really have a great name that we can all relate to."
Bhan liked the ring of SoMa — which is also used to describe the South of Market area of San Francisco — and as he told his friends about it, they agreed.
SoMa is more specific than "downtown," which could mean anything from Union Square to Battery Park. And it's friendlier than "FiDi," the nickname that brokers started using a few years ago but never really caught on among residents.
"Soma" is also coincidentally the name of the happiness-inducing hallucinogen in "Brave New World," which was itself named after a mythical Persian drink.
While Bhan acknowledged that lower Manhattan remains a major financial center, perhaps earning the descriptor "Financial District," he pointed out that hundreds of offices along Wall Street have become luxury apartments and condos. Even the former American Stock Exchange buildings along Trinity Place are now slated to become a high-end hotel, apartment and retail complex.
Bhan, an India native, moved to the Financial District after living in TriBeCa, when he and his young family were looking for more space. Bhan was hesitant at first because he thought of the Financial District as a place that shut down at 5 p.m. and was deserted on the weekends, but he soon discovered a sense of camaraderie among his fellow pioneers in the burgeoning community.
"This neighborhood is one of the oldest in the city, but as a residential neighborhood, it's new," said Bhan, who lives with his wife and two young children. "There's an energy about the place — people are always talking about things that would make the neighborhood better."
The new name is Bhan's contribution. He formed a small committee of friends at the beginning of the year, including broker Ariel Cohen, and they started building support through a logo, a website and a Facebook page. They also began meeting with local businesses, elected officials and the Downtown Alliance business improvement district, and they're planning a postcard campaign soon.
Bhan does not have specific geographic boundaries in mind, but defines the area by what it is not: It's the neighborhood outside the boundaries of TriBeCa, Battery Park City, the Seaport and City Hall.
Bhan said he does not intend to profit from the name in any way.
"It just seems like something we need," Bhan said. "We're just a naming committee. We will dissolve once the name catches on."