How New York City's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

© Anthony DELANOIX / Unsplash
© Anthony DELANOIX / Unsplash
Photo of Loni Klara
28 January 2017

Though New York is full of self-explanatory neighborhood names like the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Lower East Side, and acronyms like NoLiTa, DUMBO, and SoHo, certain areas contain names with a bit more history to them. If you’ve ever been curious about those, find out more about them below.

Hell’s Kitchen

Perhaps the neighborhood with the most curious name in the city is Hell’s Kitchen, especially considering how expensive and gentrified this area has become in recent years. Although the name’s origin is not exactly clear, one intriguing legend involves a conversation between a cop and his partner – a story referred to as “Fred the Cop.” The narrative goes that when the rookie remarked, “This place is hell itself,” Fred supposedly replied, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.” Other origin stories involve Davy Crockett referring to a crime-infested neighborhood in lower Manhattan as “hell’s kitchen,” as well as a local gang that went by the name of “Hell’s Kitchen Gang.”


Though the neighborhood is now known for soul food restaurants, the name Harlem is actually a variation of the Dutch village Haarlem, which it is named after. The history of the Dutch village dates back to pre-medieval times, and residents can thank the Dutch settlers for bringing that name across the ocean in the 17th century.

135th St in Harlem | © Matias Garabedian / Flickr

Red Hook

This Brooklyn neighborhood also got its name from Dutch settlers in the 1600s. They called the place Roode Hoek, meaning red point, a literal name referring to the red soil of the region, as well as the pointed piece of land that stretches out into the Upper West Bay.


When the Dutch East India Company secured the area in 1638, Peter Stuyvesant – the director-general of the colony whose name appears in another Brooklyn neighborhood, Stuyvesant Heights – named it Boswijck. Meaning a “little town in the woods,” it was quite a literal name at the time as the neighborhood was heavily forested (unlike today, where the streets display graffiti).

Graffiti in Bushwick | © LilyyyB / Flickr


An area in Queens that is fast becoming popular with the younger crowd, Astoria was originally called Hallett’s Cove, after the landowner William Hallett, who lived in the neighborhood in the 17th century. It was later renamed after another man, John Jacob Astor, who was the wealthiest man in America at the time.

Greenwich Village

Now a bustling region known for its bohemian roots, the Village was referred to as Sapokanikan, meaning “tobacco field,” by Native Americans in the 16th century. After the Dutch had settled into the land for farming, they called it Groenwijck, meaning “Green District,” after its green woods.

Washington Square Arch | © Jean-Christophe BENOIST / Wikipedia

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