Broadway. Canal Street. Madison Square. In these and other New York place-names lie stories. That’s the truth that animates this fascinating journey through the names of New York City’s streets and parks, boroughs and bridges, playgrounds and neighborhoods.
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. He excavates the roots of many names, from Brooklyn to Harlem, that have gained iconic meaning worldwide. He interviews the last living speakers of Lenape, visits the harbor’s forgotten islands, lingers on street corners named for ballplayers and saints, and meets linguists who study the estimated eight hundred languages now spoken in New York.
As recent arrivals continue to find new ways to make New York’s neighborhoods their own, the names that stick to the city’s streets function not only as portals to explore the past but also as a means to reimagine what is possible now.