Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future through Its Place-Names

Pantheon. Apr. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9781524748920. $22. HIST
In this latest work, writer Jelly-Schapiro (Island People) brings awareness and keen insight to how places in New York City were originally named, with occasional discussion of areas outside the city. He begins with landmark and street names derived from Lenape words. Along the way, he also offers an accessible overview of Local Law 28, which, among other mandates, allows for “co-naming” streets and corners without having to change official maps. 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. The narrative also addresses historical figures (such as George Washington) who spent time in New York, and their namesake landmarks (e.g., the George Washington Bridge).
VERDICT 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.
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