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Category: last names

Like Jenny-from-the-block (well maybe not quite), I was a roller-skating, rope-jumping, potsy- (hopscotch to you) playing child of the Bronx streets.  At that time I was completely unaware of how the mostly pretentious –sounding names of those streets might have referred back to past heroic figures (Popham?  Burnside? Bathgate?).  In my mind what they were identified with was the kids I knew who lived on them—Nelson Avenue was associated with the Mazur sisters, Jessup with my classmate Nancy, Loring with my bf Margery’s grandmother, and Shakespeare with my elementary school.

(One name that fascinated me and couldn’t be ignored was Featherbed Lane, a street that I passed on the way to school every day and was home to my Aunt Pearl and family.  It was only later that I discovered the probable origins of the name—that during the Revolutionary War, locals covered the street with feather beds so that the soldiers fighting the British could move quietly through the area—though there were other explanations as well.)

Here are some of the mostly surname names from my neighborhood and beyond:

ANDREWS

ANTHONY

BRANDT

CEDAR

CLIFFORD

CRESTON

DAVIDSON

(Mt) EDEN

FORDHAM

GERARD

HARRISON

HENNESSEY

JEROME

JESSUP

LORING

MONTGOMERY

MORRIS

MORTON

NELSON

OSBORNE

PELHAM

PHELAN

SELWYN

SHAKESPEARE

VALENTINE

WALTON

WEBSTER

During my childhood, if you were from the Bronx, it was practically in your DNA to hate all things Brooklyn.  But now that I’ve matured into a more rational and objective name observer, I do have to admit that that other borough does have  a better selection of street names—less stuffy and a lot more that are actually suited  to a baby.  In fact there are so many Courts and Places with standard first names that you have to wonder if the streets weren’t named after the builders’ own babies.

Here’s a selection—there are lots more:

AINSLIE

ALABAMA

ALBANY

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cornelia-street-cafe

In the course of leading a basically bicoastal life, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time walking and driving the streets of both New York and L.A.  And I have to say, as rhythmic and melodious as so many of the California names are– e.g. Alameda, Amanita, Mariposa, Morella– for native New Yorker me there’s nothing like the solid, straight-forward, usable street names of downtown Manhattan, from Greenwich Village to the Wall Street area, names resonant with references to early American history.

The names of these meandering streets, lanes and alleys were subject to shifting trends.  Many British names were changed after the Revolutionary War, for example, and for a time fashion dictated that streets named for local property owners would carry the first names only.  Leaders in the War of 1812 provided a goodly share of names, as did figures connected to Trinity Church.

Here are Lower Manhattan street names with their historical roots–any of which would make a possible namesake.

ALLENafter War of 1812 hero Captain William Henry Allen

ANNnamed for either a member of the Beekman clan or the wife of Captain William Henry Allen

ASTOR –named for John Jacob Astor, “the richest man in America

BARCLAYReverend Henry Barclay was the second rector of Trinity Church

BARROW–  artist Thomas Barrow was known for his portraits of Trinity Church

BAXTERoriginally called Orange Street, renamed for Mexican War hero Colonel Charles Baxter

BAYARDNicholas Bayard was mayor of NY in 1686

BENSONEgbert Benson was New York’s first Attorney General

BETHUNE—named for philanthropist Johanna Graham Bethune

BLEECKER—the street ran through the farm of Anthony L. Bleecker

CARMINEfor  Trinity Church vestryman Nicolas Carman (sic)

CATHERINE the wife of land owner Henry Rutgers

CHARLES ––named for landowner Charles Christopher Amos

CHARLTONDr. John Charlton, an English-born surgeon, became president of the N.Y. Medical Society

CHRISTOPHERalso named for Charles Christopher Amos, a local landowner

CHRYSTIE – named for Lt.-Col. John Christie (sic), killed in the War of 1812

CLARKSON – Revolutionary War hero Matthew Clarkson

CLINTONGeorge Clinton, was a Revolutionary War hero and the first governor of New York State

CORNELIA a beloved granddaughter of landowner Robert Herring

CROSBYnamed for William Bedlow Crosby, who inherited much of the Lower East Side

DELANCEYnamed after James De Lancey, Sr, whose farm was located in what is now the LES

DUANEJames Duane was an early mayor of the city

ELDRIDGEnamed for a Lieutenant killed in the War of 1812

ELIZABETHunknown

ESSEXnamed for the English county (as were nearby Norfolk and Suffolk Streets)

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The Lost Boy Names of 1880

Classic Baby Names

The boys’ names that ranked among the Top 1000 in 1880, the first year for which statistics were kept, include hundreds of choices no longer in use – or at least very rarely heard.  Some of the categories of lost names overlap with the now-obscure girls’ names, while others are different.

Nickname-names, for instance, so packed with lost names for girls, include some lost choices for boys, though more of the nickname names in use in the late 19th century are still widely used today: Joe, Jack, Jake, Jim, and so on.

Those nickname names we’re not hearing much of any more but which were popular in 1880 include:

CHAS

CLEM

DELL

DOSS

DUFF

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nicole & sparrow

Just when it seemed that the stormy seas of extreme celebrity baby names were calming down (you can see our comments on this at Celebrity Babies Blog), a new crop has come along  introducing a whole bunch of innovative choices, ranging from the ridiculous to the semi-sublime:

BARDOT (first name of David Boreanaz’s daughter) Following in the footsteps of Harlow and other  Hollywood sirens and sex kittens of the past(Dad Boreanaz admitted being inspired by a Brigitte Bardot poster), Bardot could easily fit in with the growing group of o-ending girls’ names: Juno, Lilo, Willow, etc.

BETSI (middle name of Ioan Gruffudd & Alice Evans’ daughter Ella).  Much to my surprise, I find this new take on an old name—I’m not usually a big fan of changing y’s to i’s— appealingly fresh, cute and perky.

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Scottish Names

They’re not like those jaunty Irish surnames that kind of jump out and hit you in the face–no way you could see Finnegan or Donovan as anything else.  But Scottish surnames, somewhat more subtly, have affected American nomenclature to a surprising degree.

Many that could pass for Irish or English are actually old Scottish clan names, and several have long been accepted as first names in this country–a list that includes Allan, Bruce, Douglas, Leslie, Mitchell, Murray, Stewart, Gordon, Lindsay, and, of course, Scott.

Scottish surnames are divided into two groups: Highland and Lowland.  Highlanders didn’t use fixed family names until relatively late–until the 1700’s a man was often designated by his father’s name or would adopt the last name of a laird to curry his favor.  It was the Gaelic Highlanders who used the prefix ‘Mac‘ to denote ‘son of”. 

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