Book Talk: “Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through its Place-Names” Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro will speak about his book, Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through its Place-Names, at a book talk sponsored by the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 6:30 pm. The announcement for the event reads:

“Exploring the power of naming to shape experience and our sense of place, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro traces the ways in which native Lenape, Dutch settlers, British invaders, and successive waves of immigrants have left their marks on the city’s map. He excavates the roots of many names, from Brooklyn to Harlem, that has gained iconic meaning worldwide. He meets the last living speakers of Lenape, visits the harbor’s forgotten islands, and lingers on street corners named for ballplayers and saints. As recent arrivals continue to find new ways to make New York’s neighborhoods their own, the names that stick to the city’s streets function not only as portals to explore the past but also as a means to reimagine what is possible now.”

Register for the event via the NY Institute for Public Knowledge website.(Advanced registration and RSVP are required.)

Renaming Lake Shore Drive: Chicago’s Iconic Road to be Named for Founder Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

An artist’s rendering of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (Public Domain)

After a heated debate, the City of Chicago is one signature away from re-naming Lake Shore Drive after Hatian Explorer and Founder of Chicago Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, John Byrne reports in the Chicago Tribune. Many landmarks throughout the city have been renamed in recent memory, some of which honor the memory and deeds of important Chicagoans where others merely reflect a change in ownership. Byrne writes:

“There’s recent precedent for naming a prominent street to honor an important Black Chicagoan. In 2019, the City Council renamed a stretch of Congress Parkway downtown for crusading African American journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells.
Still, Chicagoans cling to tradition, a point that’s been proven time and again. How many locals still refer to the city’s tallest building as the Sears Tower, though it has officially been the Willis Tower since 2009?”

Read more about Point du Sable, Lake Shore Drive, and the politics of renaming in the Chicago Tribune.

Indigenous Toponyms in New York, across America

Though the indigenous peoples of the American colonies were pushed off of their land throughout the history of the United States, indigenous names proliferate throughout the North American continent. In his New Yorker essay “How New York was Named”, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro discusses the indigenous toponyms of America’s cities, states, and landmarks. Dialects of Lenape, Algonquian, and many other North American languages (which at one point made up a quarter of the world’s languages) are featured throughout the essay, as are the modern language centers founded to preserve the culture and language of the people behind these names.

Jelly-Schapiro is also the author of Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names (Pantheon, 2021), from which the essay is adapted.

Additionally, the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University will be hosting Jelly-Schapiro for a book talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Click here for more information on that talk.

About Names: Staying Power Makes “Andrew” A Smash Hit

Andrew Yang, American businessman, politician, and Universal Basic Income advocate (photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 26th column, he looks at the history of the name Andrew.

Will you stay up late to see hometown boy Andrew?

Andrew Rannells co-hosts “Oscars: After Dark” on ABC after the Academy Awards tonight. Rannells, who grew up in Omaha’s Hanscom Park neighborhood, was nominated for Tonys for “The Book of Mormon” (2003) and “Falsettos” (2016). He starred in television’s “The New Normal” and “Black Monday”, and the 2020 films “The Boys in the Band” and “The Prom.”

Andrew is the English form of Andreas, a Greek name derived from “andreios” (“manly”). St. Andrew, Simon’s brother, was the first Apostle of Jesus.

It’s possible the saint was born with a Hebrew name, Andrew being his nickname. On the other hand, Alexander the Great’s conquests brought Greek culture to Palestine three centuries before. Israeli historian Tal Ilan’s found 14.5% of Jews in Jesus’ time had Greek names.

St. Andrew was popular throughout medieval Europe. In England, 637 churches were dedicated to him.

Andrew did even better in Scotland. Relics of St. Andrew were brought to Scotland in the eighth century. King Angus II legendarily won a battle against the Angles in 832 after praying to the saint. The town surrounding Scotland’s national cathedral was named St. Andrews, and Andrew became a hugely popular name for Scottish boys.

The Mandalorian’s “Baby Yoda” has a Name

Grogu, with a misspelled name tag, at a coffeeshop in Boston shortly after the episode aired (Photo: Brandon Simonson, 2020)

At the 2019 Name of the Year competition, held during the 2020 annual meeting of the American Name Society in New Orleans, the name “Baby Yoda” won in the “Artistic and Literary Name” category. In his report of the competition, Cleve Evans writes,

Baby Yoda is the popular designation for a character in the Disney Plus Star Wars series “The Mandalorian.” In the film, this recurring character with saucer eyes and bat-like ears is known simply as The Child. However, viewers and critics quickly dubbed him Baby Yoda. The character is almost always called this alternative name on social media. It’s unusual for the common name of a fictional character that was created by fans to replace the official name originally given by writers or producers.

Season 2 of the popular series, which aired on Disney Plus in the Fall of 2020, has revealed The Child‘s real name: Grogu.

The big reveal follows the introduction of another Star Wars fan favorite, Ahsoka Tano, a former Jedi Padawan well-known from the animated Star Wars series, who reveals The Child‘s name to the titular character and audience alike. While the name Grogu was recognized and duly nominated for the American Name Society’s 2020 Name of the Year in the “Artistic and Literary Name” category, popular Canadian television series Schitt’s Creek won the vote. Read more about Grogu and The Mandalorian in the episode recap from The New York Times, and may the force be with you. Always.

One Josh to Rule them All

It all started with a short message, sent to everyone named “Josh Swain” via Facebook Messenger in the Spring of 2020:

“Precisely, 4/24/2021, 12:00 PM, meet at these coordinates, (40.8223286, -96.7982002) we fight, whoever wins gets to keep the name, everyone else has to change their name, you have a year to prepare, good luck”

Eventually, all those with the name “Josh” were invited to the faux battle, which itself was moved from private Nebraskan farmland to a nearby public location. What followed can only be described as something out of the battle royale genre: armed with foam pool noodles, people united only by their common name battled until only one Josh was left standing. Read more about the battle of the Joshes in the Wall Street Journal.

“America Ruined my Name”: Immigration, Assimilation, and Asian Personal Names

A modern story of immigration, assimilation, and the challenges that those with Asian personal names encounter through both, Beth Nguyen retells the account of her family arriving in America from Vietnam in the 1980s and the difficulties she encountered surrounding the general public’s perception of her first name. Those unfamiliar with the pronunciation of Beth’s birth name (Bich, pronounced “Bic”) might perceive it as homophonous with an English curse word, and her peers, teachers, and others often did. Beth speaks about the decision to change her name and the impact that personal names have on individuals in America, especially refugees.

Beth’s first book, published under her birth name Bich Minh Nguyen, is Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir (Penguin, 2008).

About Names: History has many famous Duanes; ‘Young Rock’ could spark a new round

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, photo by Eva Rinaldi (, CC BY-SA 2.0

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 14th column, he looks at the history of the name Duane.

Dwayne’s a respelling of Duane, a form of Irish surname Ó Dubháin, “descendant of Dubhán.” Dubhán, “black-haired,” is known through St. Dubhán, founder of a medieval church in County Galway. Duane was the English form of Ó Dubháin in Connacht. Doane, Doone, Downe, Dewan, Dwane, and Devane were used in other parts of Ireland.

Duane first appeared on Social Security’s top thousand list in 1903. DeWayne showed up in 1918, followed by Dwayne (1921), Dwain (1923), Dwaine (1926), Duwayne (1929) and Dwane (1935).

DeWayne left the top thousand baby name list in 2002 and Duane followed in 2003. Dwayne held on until 2019. Will “Young Rock” be able to wrestle it back? We’ll know a couple of years from now.

About Names: We can thank pop culture for scores of Gen X Amys

Singer Amy Winehouse; Greg Gebhardt from Laguna Beach, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 23rd column, he looks at the history of the name Amy.

Amy is the English version of medieval French Amée, “beloved,” itself from Latin “Amata.” Saint Amata, who died around 1250, was an Italian girl miraculously healed by her aunt, St. Clare of Assisi. By 1320, Amy was well-used by England’s Norman French-speaking aristocracy. It was among the Top 50 names for English girls baptized between 1538 and 1700.

The most famous Amy then was Amy Robsart Dudley (1532-1560), first wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite Robert Dudley. She was found dead of a broken neck at the foot of a flight of stairs. Though both a 1560 coroner’s jury and most modern historians conclude this was accidental, rumors abounded that Dudley murdered Amy in hopes he could then marry the queen.

In 1880, Amy ranked No. 108 on Social Security’s first yearly baby name list. It steadily declined, bottoming out at No. 364 in 1933. By 1948, Amy inched back up to No. 310. That year “Where’s Charley?”, Frank Loesser’s musical based on British author Brandon Thomas’ play “Charley’s Aunt,” began a two-year run on Broadway. Its hit song “Once In Love With Amy (always in love with Amy)” became star Ray Bolger’s signature. He often sang it on 1950s television variety shows. Both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra recorded it.