Credit: Penguin Random House

The stories of places lie in their names. Nowhere is this more true than in the names of the streets, parks, neighborhoods, and boroughs themselves of New York City.

In Names of New York, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro explores the power of naming to shape experience and our sense of place. From Bowery to Brooklyn, Jelly-Schapiro traces the ways in which native Lenape, Dutch settlers, British invaders, Revolutionary war heroes, and successive waves of immigrants have left their marks on the city’s map. As we examine the names that make up New York City, we unveil layers of its history and the people who have defined that history—as well as those who have been unseen and overlooked. While the names that are largely visible to the maps and streets of New York hail historical figures who have held power, rarely do we see women, people of color, and members of the working classes recognized in public spaces or place-names.

As New York City’s population changes, so too do its place-names and what they mean for new arrivals. The study of place names reveals the evolution of neighborhoods, geographies, boundaries, and function not just as portals to explore the past but also as a means to reimagine what is possible now.

In this conversation with moderator Saundra Thomas, author Joshua Jelly-Shapiro explored who is named in New York, who is not, and what these names say about the past, present, and future of our city.


“A casually wondrous experience; it made me feel like the city was unfolding beneath my feet.”

—Jia Tolentino, staff writer at The New Yorker

Names of New York
here (or from your local bookstore).

Author Bio

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and Harper’s, among many other publications. He is the author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World, the co-creator (with Rebecca Solnit) of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, and a scholar-in-residence at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, where he also teaches.


OHNY Stacks

OHNY Stacks is a series of virtual book talks exploring the unknown, the unseen, and the unnoticed. Join us on Thursdays, 5:30—6:30pm ET through February with authors of highly acclaimed books critical to understanding the past, present, and future of New York—as well as national trends or global issues that influence the shape, structure, and experience of cities and urban life today. 

Free for OHNY Members and Volunteers; $5 General Admission