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History Through Names

Most of the place names in New York are in English. Some are anglicized Dutch. The most interesting ones are from the Algonquian group of languages, or anglicized Algonquian, or dutchified Algonquian, or anglicized dutchified Algonquian. A few examples:

The most obvious is “Manhattan,” originally (maybe) “Manna-hata.” It might mean island of hills or it might not.

Jamaica, in Queens, was named after the Jameco or Yamecah people.

Gowanus Bay, south of Red Hook, was named after the sachem Gauwane.

The Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie was named for the Canarsee people.

The Queens neighborhood of Maspeth was named for the Mespeatches people.

The Rockaway peninsula and the neighborhood of Far Rockaway come from a word used by the Canarsees who lived there, and there are too many possibilities for its meaning to repeat here.

There’s power in names, but you have to know what they mean to understand it.