How Brooklyn Neighborhhods Got Their Names
Brooklyn's modern history began as six small Dutch towns on the southern tip of Long Island. From these inauspicious beginnings sprouted New York's most populous borough, full of unique and distinct neighborhoods. You may know where these neighborhoods are, but do you know what their names mean?
Bay Ridge, ca. 1872-1887
Dutch settlers landed in this area and dubbed it “Yellow Hook” for its yellow clay soil along the water. In 1853, a yellow fever epidemic broke out and, in a move of astute marketing, Yellow Hook’s citizens changed the neighborhood’s name to Bay Ridge. Wealthy New Yorkers were attracted to the area’s beautiful views of New York Bay—a much better draw than a virulent blood disease.
The Bergen family were some of the first Dutch settlers to land in Brooklyn. Their clan originated in Bergen, Norway, and descendent Hans Hansen Bergen migrated to Kings County in 1633. His wife, Sarah Rapelye, arrived with the first Dutch ship to the borough and, according to the book Brooklyn by Name, she called herself the “first-born Christian Daughter of New Netherland.” What people actually called her behind her back, however, has been lost in the tides of history.
This hybrid name comes from the time when the town of Bedford merged with Stuyvesant Heights. Stuyvesant Heights was named for Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of the Dutch-controlled New Netherlands colony before it was given to British rule in 1664.
The Boerums were early Dutch settlers who arrived in Brooklyn in 1649 and rose to prominence as farmers in the area. The name Boerum Hill was out of fashion for much of the 20th century and the area was often just referred to as “South Brooklyn.” When the neighborhood’s popularity rose in the 1990s, South Brooklyn was out and Boerum Hill was in.
This one is relatively self-explanatory, but the name "Brooklyn" isn't (at least for those of us who don't speak Dutch). It comes from Breuckelen, one of the aforementioned six original towns of Kings County. New York's first suburb was named for the ridge it's perched upon over the East River. It was known as "Brooklyn Village" for years before the name "Brooklyn Heights" stuck as the borough grew.
Like Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens was just “South Brooklyn” for most of its history. The name “Carroll Gardens” comes from Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll led a failed assault on a British encampment near the Gowanus Canal in 1776 and lost about 300 of his 400 troops. In the mid-20th century, a neighborhood civic association popularized the name Carroll Gardens in an attempt to revitalize the area. Their plan wound up being far more successful than Carroll's assault.
This neighborhood just east of Fort Greene is named after Clinton Avenue, which is itself named after New York Governor DeWitt Clinton (in office from 1817 to '22 and again from 1825 to '28). “Hill” alludes to the area's downright dizzying elevation of 95 feet.
This area is named for the steep cobblestone street that once rose from what today is the corner of Court and Pacific Streets. Early Dutch settlers called it "Ponkiesbergh," which literally translates to "Cobble Hill." George Washington used it as a vantage point during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Long Island. The Americans lost, but as least he had a great view.
The Dutch called this land "Conyne Eylandt," meaning "Rabbit Island."
Crown Heights was originally Crow Hill until Crown Street was laid through the neighborhood in 1916. We may never know why they didn't just change the name to "Crown Hill" so they would only have to buy one letter to change all the signs.
The sprawling Cypress Hills Cemetery was incorporated on November 21, 1848 by New York state as a non-profit, non-sectarian organization, and the surrounding neighborhood soon took its name.