Background Info

One of the great legacies of human migration and settlement is the coming together of diverse groups of people in the same space. When people of different backgrounds coexist, the resulting impact can be seen in the area's cultural markers, such as place names.

 

From Dutch to Unami (the Lenápe language) and everything in between, New York City's modern-day place names, or toponyms, reveal its rich history of linguistic influences.

Fast Facts

  • The Lenpe tribe was part of a larger group of Native Americans that spoke variations of the Algonquin language. In the Lenpes Unami dialect, Lenpe means human beings or real people. Tammany Hall, once a highly influential political organization based in New York City, takes its name from Lenpe Chief Tamanend.
  • In 1635, the Dutch built a wall across lower Manhattan Island to protect their young settlement from English and Native American attacks. Local merchants gathered on street corners to buy and sell stocks and bonds, and the area quickly grew into a hub of financial activity. Though the walls have since fallen, the name Wall Street endures to this day.
  • The Walloons were settlers from the Wallonia region of southern Belgium. They came to New Amsterdam with the permission of the Dutch government. Wallabout Bay, the current site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, comes from the Dutch Waalen Boogt, meaning Walloons Curve.
  • Brooklyns Coney Island amusement park and boardwalk, a popular summer spot for New Yorkers since the early 1900's, takes its name from the Dutch Conyne Eylandt, meaning Rabbit Island. However, the getaway is no longer a true island- in the 1880's, developers filled in the creek that separated it from the rest of Brooklyn.
  • Henry Hudson was the first known European to set foot in what is now New York City, but he was not the first to sail through its waters. Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer sailing on behalf of France, sailed through what is now New York Harbor in 1524 before docking in present-day North Carolina. Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island, is named for him.
  • The Dutch attempted to recapture New York City from the British in 1673. They were briefly successful, and renamed the city New Orange (for the House of Orange-Nassau, a political dynasty in the Netherlands) until they were forced to return the city after defeat in the third Anglo-Dutch War less than a year later.

For Further Exploration

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

arable

Adjective

land able to produce crops.

city

Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

coexist

Verb

to live at the same time or in the same place.

cultural marker

Noun

unique characteristic of a community.

dense

Adjective

having parts or molecules that are packed closely together.

diverse

Adjective

varied or having many different types.

Dutch West India Company

Noun

(1621-1792) corporation established to expand trade and carry out colonial activities in the Americas.

human migration

Noun

the movement of people from one place to another.

legacy

Noun

material, ideas, or history passed down or communicated by a person or community from the past.

Lenápe

adjective, noun

people and culture originally native to the mid-Atlantic region of North America. Also called the Delaware.

linguistic

Adjective

having to do with language or speech.

region

Noun

any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

Encyclopedic Entry: region

settlement

Noun

community or village.

toponym

Noun

name of a place.

toponymy

Noun

the study of place names.

urban area

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

Encyclopedic Entry: urban area

Credits

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Writer

Ryan Schleeter

Editors

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, National Geographic Society

Sources

Encyclopedia of American Indian History

The Encyclopedia of North American Colonial Conflicts to 1775: A Political, Social, and Military History

Dictionary of American History

Oxford English Dictionary

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