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Shout gun homes in New Orleans.

Posted on July 19 2019

Tradition holds that the name "shotgun" derives from the notion of firing gun shot through the front door and out the rear without touching a wall. The term itself postdates the shotgun's late-19th-century heyday, not appearing in print until the early 20th century.

According to some theories, cultures that produced shotgun houses (and other residences without hallways, such as Creole cottages) tended to be more gregarious, or at least unwilling to sacrifice valuable living space for the purpose of occasional passage.

Cultures that valued privacy, on the other hand, were willing to make this trade-off. When they arrived in New Orleans in the early 19th century, for example, privacy-conscious peoples of Anglo-Saxon descent brought with them the American center-hall cottage and side-hall townhouse, in preference over local Creole designs.

One theory, popular with tour guides and amateur house-watchers, holds that shotgun houses were designed in New Orleans in response to a real estate tax based on frontage rather than square footage, motivating narrow structures. There's one major problem with this theory. No one can seem to find that tax code.

Some contend that “shotgun” in this case is a corruption of the West African word “shogon.” This word literally translates to “God’s House.” It is significant when you realize that this style of home likely appeared in New Orleans with the presence of Haitian slaves who were brought to the city by plantation owners forced to flee Haiti in 1791. Many free African men and women also came to the city, and they built the style of home to which they were accustomed.

The existing research indicates that the shotgun house originated in the West Indies. A number of these homes were noted in St. Domingue, or present day Haiti, by historians. They were mostly occupied by slaves of the region who had limited means to construct a dwelling.

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