What’s in a Name – A History of NYC Neighborhoods

(Last Updated On: May 11, 2018)

A History of NYC Neighborhoods

A History of NYC Neighborhoods

The Statue of Liberty, Broadway, hot dogs, Central Park, taxis. There are many things that make The Big Apple, well, big. New York is comprised of five boroughs and more than 250 neighborhoods. Some of these areas are named after landmarks, people, even their location in the city, while others have a more unique history. Here is a little history of NYC neighborhoods, districts and boroughs, and how they received their names.

The Bronx

The Bronx is the only borough that has “the” in its name. It is named after the Bronx River, which was named after a man named Jonas Bronck who came to the Americas from Sweden. He bought up to 500 acres of land from the Native Americans on the east side of the river, which quickly became known as “Bronck’s river.”


Brooklyn is the most populated borough in New York City. Its name in Dutch means “marshland.” In the 17th century, the small Dutch settlement was formed and named Breuckelen. It changed to its current spelling in the 18th century.


Prior to the American Revolution, British Major Thomas Clark bought just shy of 100 acres of land and called it Chelsea after a veteran’s hospital in Great Britain. The name just stuck.

Flatiron District

The Fuller Building was built in 1902 and was one of the largest buildings in New York City at the time. It is an iconic building with a flat, triangular-shaped roof that many people believed looked like a flatiron. People referred to the area as Flatiron until it became well-known and officially called the Flatiron District.

The Garment District

This district is extremely small – only one square mile in size — but in the early 20th century, it is where you would find more than half of the garment factories in the city. It quickly became the place you could go for all your fashion-forward needs and still is today. You can find many clothing stores and fashion headquarters here.

Gramercy Park

Gramercy Park consists of a neighborhood and a park. Its name derives from the Dutch phrase, “Krom Moerasje,” which means small crooked swamp. This neighborhood was originally a large swamp with numerous small streams of water. It was later bought and renamed Gramercy Seat. Gramercy means “many thanks.”

Hell’s Kitchen

This neighborhood received its name for its poor living conditions and extremely high crime rate. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, it was full of gangs, riots and various criminal activity. There are many different theories behind how this neighborhood received its name. A few of these theories include:

  • A gang with the same name roamed this neighborhood.
  • A reporter once referred to this area as Hell’s Kitchen.
  • A policeman and his partner were observing a riot in the neighborhood when one cop said this place was like Hell and the other responded Hell was much milder.

Hamilton Heights

This area receives its name from Alexander Hamilton, who built a country home in the area. The home was meant to be his vacation home but he was shot only two years after building the home.


Tribeca’s name doesn’t come from a unique and crazy story. Instead, it’s simply an abbreviation of its actual location. Tribeca is short for Triangle Below Canal Street. Other locations in New York City receive their name in a similar matter. For example, Nolita is an abbreviation of North of Little Italy and SoHo stands for South of Houston Street.

Now you know some history of NYC neighborhoods. Is there anything we missed or that you would add? Let us know in the comment section below.