Manhattan: Place of Inebriation

Monday, March 07, 2011 - 11:40 AM

The origins of the name Manhattan are a murky business. Today, Leonard spoke to James and Karla Murray, who have set about documenting the varied store fronts of New York's rapidly disappearing mom-and-pop stores. As part of their book, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, they include historical descriptions of New York's neighborhoods. In addition to the interesting tidbits and trivia (who knew that the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery was still making yogurt with a culture brought over from Romania in the 1890s?), I was surprised to find out that the origins of present-day Manhattan could be traced to so many different words. Here's a sample of the few the Murrays named:

From the Munsee peoples' language:

  • Manahactanienk - place of general inebriation
  • Manahatouh - place where timber is procured for bows and arrows
  • Menatay - island

From the Lenape peoples' language:

  • Mannahatta - island of many hills. Walt Whitman wrote of the name in Leaves of Grass, "I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,/Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name/Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;/I see that the word of my city is that word up there."

The island first appeared on a map in 1610 as Manahatta. In 2009, Leonard spoke to landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson, who combed through historical and archaeological records, geographically matched an 18th-century map of Manhattan to the modern cityscape, and used modern principles of ecology and computer modeling to re-create the wilds of the island four centuries ago. He found that in 1610, Manhattan had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more native plant species per acre than Yosemite,a nd more birds than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Now I'm left wondering: What other New York neighborhoods have interesting etymologies? For instance, how did the early colonialists get to Flushing from the original Dutch name for the neighborhood - Vlissingen?

Let me know in the comments!


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Comments [1]

David Nieves from Manhattan

Most often corruption in name produces a name change. Many words later pronounced
in English changed spelling according to verbal change.

Mar. 11 2011 03:56 PM

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