Exploring the power of naming to shape experience and our sense of place, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro traces the ways in which native Lenape, Dutch settlers, British invaders, and successive waves of immigrants have left their marks on the city’s map.
Names of New York explicates Gotham’s place-names to intoxicating—if occasionally numbing—effect. The result is a vivid toponymic history of an ever-changing metropolis ... Names of New York conveniently unravels some of the city’s most durable minor mysteries ... Mr. Jelly-Schapiro’s book will appeal to dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers wherever they live, but even the city that never sleeps may find itself nodding off during the author’s catalog of the many new designations arising from a 1992 law that made it possible to recognize martyrs, heroes and communities by means of supplemental honorary place names. Yes, Queens has 10 streets honoring men named Frank.
The author brings both impressive detail and rich history to his exploration of a variety of naming conventions, such as those taken from the landscape or terrain, names referencing the role of the street or the vocations of its inhabitants, streets commemorating historical events, and more. A lot of ground is covered but it never feels like something is missing from this wide-ranging work ... While toponymy, or the study of place-names, may appear to be an overwhelming topic, Jelly-Schapiro's writing is informative, accessible, and entertaining. He is engaging throughout, and will leave readers thinking twice about the place-names they encounter on a daily basis.
Jelly-Schapiro’s sprightly prose and ear for New Yorkers’ stories shows, if nothing else, that place-names are less permanent than the ground they identify, and changing them helps forget a past or shape a future.