What is the origin of the names of the five boroughs of New York?

Travel Destinations

By Felicity Long

New York City is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each has its own unique history and story behind its name. Understanding the origins of these names provides a glimpse into the rich history of one of the world’s greatest cities.

Manhattan: The Island of Many Hills

The name "Manhattan" is believed to come from the Lenape language, meaning "island of many hills." The Lenape were the original inhabitants of the area before the arrival of Europeans. The island was later purchased by the Dutch from the Lenape in 1626 and named New Amsterdam. However, it was eventually renamed Manhattan in honor of its original inhabitants.

The Bronx: Named After a Dutchman

The Bronx is named after Jonas Bronck, a Swedish-born Dutchman who settled in the area in 1639. He established a farm and trading post in what is now the South Bronx and became a prominent figure in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The area later became known as Bronck’s Land, which was eventually shortened to "the Bronx."

Queens: A Tribute to a Queen in History

Queens is named after Catherine of Braganza, the wife of King Charles II of England. The area was originally part of a land grant given to the Dutch West India Company by the Lenape in the mid-17th century. After the English takeover of New Netherland in 1664, the area was renamed in honor of the queen.

Brooklyn: Dutch Roots and Breukelen

Brooklyn’s name has Dutch roots and is believed to come from the Dutch village of Breukelen. The area was originally part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland and was named Breuckelen by Dutch settlers in the 17th century. It was later anglicized to Brooklyn after the English takeover.

Staten Island: The Land of the Raritan People

Staten Island was originally inhabited by the Raritan people, who called it "Aquehonga Manacknong." The name Staten Island comes from the Dutch word "Staaten Eylandt," meaning "Island of the States." It was named after the Staten-Generaal, the governing body of the Dutch Republic, who granted a land patent for the island to the Dutch West India Company in 1630.

Breukelen: The Source of Brooklyn’s Name

As mentioned earlier, Brooklyn’s name is believed to come from the Dutch village of Breukelen. The village is located in Utrecht province in the Netherlands and means "broken land." The name likely referred to the marshy terrain around the village.

Long Island: An Unofficial Borough

Long Island is not officially one of the five boroughs of New York City, but it is an important part of the city’s history. The island was originally home to several Native American tribes, including the Lenape. It was later settled by the Dutch and English and played a significant role in the American Revolution.

The Lenape People: The Original Inhabitants

The Lenape people were the original inhabitants of the area that now comprises New York City. They were a Native American tribe who lived in the region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. They had a rich culture and way of life that was disrupted by the arrival of Europeans.

The Arrival of the Dutch

The Dutch were the first Europeans to establish a permanent settlement in what is now New York City. They founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1626 and began trading with the Lenape and other Native American tribes in the area. The Dutch also established colonies in what is now Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The English Takeover

In 1664, the English took control of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. They also took control of the Dutch colonies in what is now Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The English continued to expand their control over the area, eventually establishing New York City as we know it today.

The Five Boroughs: A Brief History

The five boroughs of New York City have a rich and complex history that reflects the diversity and complexity of the city itself. From the Lenape and other Native American tribes to the Dutch and English settlers who arrived later, each group has left its mark on the city. Understanding the origins of the names of the five boroughs provides a window into this fascinating history.

Photo of author

Felicity Long

Felicity Long, a seasoned travel journalist with 15+ years of experience, specializes in exploring Europe, family travel, and skiing, as evident in her book "Great Escapes: New England" (The Countryman Press). She edits the Europe eNewsletter and contributes significantly to TravelAsker's destinations sections. Felicity has received esteemed awards, including the Cacique and Yo Leonardo Awards, in recognition of her outstanding international travel writing accomplishments.

Leave a Comment