Naming New York: Manhattan Places & how They Got Their Names

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NYU Press, Apr 1, 2001 - History - 207 pages
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New York is the oldest continually occupied city in America, yet its rich history is largely obscured by development. New Yorkers are surrounded by hundreds of place names, from those that survive from Manhattan's earliest days as a Dutch trading post to those that reflect the city's rich colonial, African and immigrant heritage. They provide a veritable encyclopedia of the city's history. Buildings may come and go, but place names are surprisingly durable.

Naming New York is a comprehensive compilation and explanation of the names of Manhattan's streets, alleys, avenues, plazas, parks and corners. It surveys names currently in use and includes the oldest and the newest honorific "add-on" names, from Astor Place to Yitzak Rabin Way.

Whether you're a history or trivia buff, tourist, or just fascinated by place names, learning about the origins of these mostly unexamined sources enriches one's experience of the city, and transforms a simple neighborhood errand into a trip through time.

For example:

Bowery: In the 17th century, Dutch farms known as "bowerij" were laid out in this section of Manhattan along the path of an old Indian trail. Known since that time as the Bowery, the thoroughfare became the first section of the Post Road from New York City to Boston.

Houston Street: For William Houstoun, 1757-1812, of a prominent Georgia family, who married a daughter of Manhattan landowner Nicholas Bayard III. The Georgia provenance of the name accounts for its pronunciation and spelling both of which distinguish it from the Texas city.

Wall Street: Follows the line of the city wall that the Dutch erected in 1653 across the northern perimeter of New Amsterdam to protect against attack from the British in New England.

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Naming New York: Manhattan places & how they got their names

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Ever wondered why Wall Street is called that? Because it follows the line of the palisade wall that the Dutch erected across the northern perimeter of New Amsterdam in 1653 to protect against attack ... Read full review

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Unfortunately the author frequently repeats apocryphal stories that are not supported by actual research, and the book contains several errors.
For example, Feirstein writes that Howard Street is
named for "Henry" Howard, New York's fire chief from 1857-1860. That man's name was Harry Howard, and Harry Howard Square is named for him. He was born in 1822 according to his obituary in the New York Times. And according to the minutes of the Common Council of the city, Howard Street was named in 1820 (the name was changed from Hester Street.) A simple check of openly available sources would show that a street could not be named for a person who had not yet been born.
Feirstein commits similar errors in attributing Gay Street to Sidney Howard Gay, who was a child living in Massachusetts when the street was first mentioned in public records, and Crosby Street to William Bedlow Crosby, who was about 8 years old when the street was named in deeds to the Bayard farm.

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About the author (2001)

Sanna Feirstein is a docent at the New-York Historical Society.

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