New Book: Greater New York American Indian Place Names


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Manhattan to MinisinkDrivers exiting the New Jersey Turnpike for Perth Amboy, and map readers marveling at all the places in Pennsylvania named Lackawanna, need no longer wonder how these names originated.

Manhattan to Minisink: American Place Names in Greater New York and Vicinity (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013) provides the histories of more than five hundred place names in the Greater New York area, including the five boroughs, western Long Island, the New York counties north of the city, and parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Robert S. Grumet, a leading ethnohistorian specializing in the region’s Indian peoples, draws on his meticulous research and deep knowledge to determine the origins of Native, and Native-sounding, place names.

Grumet divides his encyclopedic entries into two parts. The first comprises an alphabetical listing of nearly 340 Indian place names preserved in colonial records, located by county and state. Each entry includes the name’s language of origin, if known, and a brief discussion of its etymology, including its earliest known occurrence in written records, the history of its appearance on maps, and the name’s current status.

The book’s second section presents nearly 200 place names that, though widely believed to be of Indian origin, are “imports, inventions, invocations, or impostors.” Mistranslations are abundant in place names, and Grumet has ferreted out the mistakes and deceptions among home-grown colonial etymologies that New Yorkers have accepted for centuries.

Complete with a concise history of Greater New York, a discussion of the region’s naming practices, a useful timeline, and four maps, this is an invaluable resource both for scholars and for readers who want a more intimate knowledge of the place where they live or visit.

Note: Books noticed on The New York History Blog have been provided by their publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

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