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Ponsonby is named after Ponsonby Road which runs the length of the ridge from the Karangahape Road intersection to the south to the Three Lamps intersection to the north.
En route there are three major intersections; Williamson Avenue, which is the main thoroughfare of Grey Lynn to the west, Richmond Road (again to the west), which divides Grey Lynn and Ponsonby and Franklin Road, which is the main road in Freeman's Bay to the east.
Ponsonby is now applied to a larger area (as described above).
There are various people who might have inspired the name Ponsonby: Sir Henry Ponsonby became private secretary to the Queen just before the name change in 1873; it is unlikely however that his name would have been very well known and Ponsonby Road appears as early as the mid 1850s.
This was partially due to some criminal elements, its many Maori and Pacific Island residents and (from the 1970s onwards) student flats and an association with Auckland's arts and gay/lesbian scenes.
During her time in Auckland she walks up a track in the Ponsonby area subsequently named for her as Franklin Road.
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The Vandeleur connection: It is widely believed that what is now Ponsonby Road was originally called Vandeleur Road, but this is not backed up by evidence.
One of the earliest maps of Auckland (1841 by the Surveyor General, Felton Mathew), does show a Vandeleur Road in the general area.
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The suburb has undergone extensive gentrification over the last two decades, arguably returning it to its largely middle class origins. The Māori name for the ridge is Te Rimu Tahi ('The Lone Rimu Tree', referring to an ancient tree which stood in a prominent position at what is now the intersection of Ponsonby Road and Karangahape Road).