Origins of NYC Place Names

If you find yourself reading this post, you probably used NYCityMap first. And if you did, you probably navigated to a location on the map by providing a textual description of the location. The ability to describe a location for the purpose of navigation or direction is not unique to NYCityMap nor is the means to do so. Even technically savvy users with GPS- equipped smartphones, need a way to establish a destination location. The most common of these are address, intersection and place name.

In New York City, many place and street names have historical origins. Names were provided by the early inhabitants and explorers of the region and over time, the influx of people and languages have added their mark to the rich history of the City. From the Lenape Indians, to French and Italian explorers, to early Dutch then English colonists and finally a multi-cultural society, each group has added a variety of names to the lexicon of New York City place and street names.

Some place names have their origins in phonetic interpretations of the language spoken at the time. In some cases these words were a description of a geographic feature or land form. Appearing in a log book or on a map, could promote the word from the spoken to official. In recording the name, phonetic license was very probably applied resulting in consonants and vowels modified, omitted or added thus transforming the word into what we use today.

‘New World’ satellites of cities and towns from the homeland were also frequently used. Perhaps the motivation here was to bring a sense of place from the old to the new. With the exception of those of English origin, proper names were anglicized to suit the British administrators.

Early explorers, war heroes and settlers also provided their names for features and places throughout the City. Following a course that was sure to have been taken by early explores through Lower New York Bay, brings us to the Narrows and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that spans it, which was named for Giovanni da Verrazano an Italian sailing under a French flag. Through which leads to the Upper New York Bay and the Henry Hudson River named for the Englishman sailing for the Dutch. Moving inland to the island of Manhattan (Lenape) brings us past the Bowery (Dutch), Stuyvesant Town (Dutch) and further North to Harlem (Dutch).

Waves of immigrants are still coming to the City. The make up of whole neighborhoods and communities have changed and are constantly changing. It will be interesting to see the names that will come out of these areas in the future. The names included in this post are a small sample. And believe it or not there is even a science to the study of place names. If this post sparked your interest see the Wikipedia entry for Toponomy.


Canarsie – a Lenape subgroup

Manhattan – from Manna hatta meaning ‘island of many hills’


Arthur Kill – from Achter Kill meaning ‘back channel’

Bowery – farm

Brooklyn – from Breukelen, a Dutch city

Coney Island – Conyne Eylandt meaning ‘Rabbit Island’

Flushing – from Vlissingen, a Dutch city

Greenwich Village – from Greenwijck

Harlem – from Haarlem, a Dutch city

Kill – body of water

Kill van Kull – channel from the pass or ridge

Riker’s Island – family name

Spuyten Dyvil – meaning ‘Spinning Devil’ or ‘Devil’s Whirlpool’

Stuyvesant – last director of the Dutch colony


Verrazano Narrows Bridge – Giovanni da Verrazano, explorer

Columbus Circle – Christopher Columbus, explorer


Gouverneur Lane – Abraham Gouverneur, political activist


Henry Hudson River – explorer

New York – Duke of York


Kosciuszko Bridge – volunteer during the American Revolution

Library’s interesting history

If you read the last post on the Jefferson Market Library or you visit the library, you may be interested in hearing about the site’s history. Just walk around the corner to see the beautiful and tranquil Jefferson Market Garden.
Things weren’t always so tranquil though. This garden is on the former site of the New York Women’s House of Detention which which existed from 1932 to 1974.
According to wikipedia, the prison is infamous because it is believed to have been the world’s only art deco prison!

Made in NY Discount Locations

The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting recently released the “Made in NY” Discount Card Mobile Application. With around 1,000 vendors participating in the program, “Made in NY” cardholders can use this app to easily find the right vendor for their needs.

For when you’re not on the go, “Made in NY” cardholders can use NYCityMap to locate “Made in NY” vendors.

For more information on the “Made in NY” Discount program, visit the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting website.

Impressive library

Speaking of impressive libraries, the Jefferson Market library in the Greenwich Village looks like a castle and has a 172-foot pyramidal turret.
The building was built between 1874 and 1877 and was designed by Vaux and Withers (architects) to be used as the Third Judicial District (or Jefferson Market) Courthouse. The turret mentioned above has clocks on all four sides and was originally used as a fire watch tower.

The library is located at 425 Avenue of the Americas.

Map Treasures

Related to the recent bear post, no map related blog, especially one focused on New York City, would be complete without a salute to the veritable treasure trove of maps available for public viewing at the New York Public Library (NYPL).
According to NYPL’s website, “The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division is one of the world’s premier map collections in terms of size, scope, unique holdings, diversity and intensity of use. Established in 1898, our holdings include more than 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 books and atlases published between the 15th and 21st centuries. The collections range from the global to the local scale and support the learning and research needs of a wide variety of users.”
The Map Division is located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (42nd Street and Fifth Avenue), First Floor, Room 117.