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Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future through Its Place-Names
by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
From the co-editor of the award-winning Nonstop Metropolis–a fascinating journey into the past, present, and future of New York City through its place-names and the stories they contain
Drawing on his background in cultural geography, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro excavates the wealth of stories that are embedded in New York City’s place-names and uses them to illuminate the power of naming to shape experience and our sense of place. He traces the ways in which the native Lenape, the Dutch settlers, the British invaders, and successive waves of immigrants have all left their marks on the city and continue to reshape it. He explores how many New York place-names have accrued iconic significance far beyond the city’s boundaries. (“Brooklyn” is also the name of a notorious street gang in Haiti and of restaurants from New Zealand to Paris, and is among the top fifty names for girls in America.) And he interviews the last living speakers of Lenape, tours the harbor’s many out-islands with a tugboat captain, and meets with the linguists at the Endangered Language Alliance, who study the estimated eight hundred languages now spoken in New York.
As immigrants and marginalized groups continue to find new ways to make New York’s streets and boroughs their own, the names that adhere to the landscape function not only as portals to explore the past but also as a means to reimagine what is possible now.