It’s easy to pick up the New Yorker fast walk, but can you master the way New Yorkers talk? Now, I’m not talking about putting on that classic “New Yawk” accent; unfortunately, finding New Yorkers that still talk like that is like finding a taxi in Midtown at 4:30 in the afternoon. Instead, today I’m going to show you how to pronounce the names of NYC places like the locals do.
Interestingly, the toughest place names to pronounce tend to be of Dutch origin, and since Dutch rule of New Amsterdam was nearly 400 years ago, the current local pronunciation likely differs from the proper Dutch pronunciation. That being said, if you’re visiting from the Netherlands, you’ll probably have an easy time figuring out how to say the names of these NYC places. Everyone else, prepare to have your tongues twisted.
The name “Schermerhorn” probably wasn’t a head-scratcher more than a century ago when the Schermerhorn family was the creme de la creme of New York society, but today, without Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor to proclaim her pedigree, the masses are in confusion on how to pronounce this name that graces a subway stop, a Brooklyn street, and a row of fancy houses in Manhattan’s Seaport District. Saying “SKIM-er-horn” or “SKER-mer-horn” is the accepted pronunciation, but if you slip up and say “SHER-mer-horn,” no one will fault you either.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but all my life I’ve been incorrectly saying the name of this busy Brooklyn street and I know I’m not the only one. Named after Gerret Noorstrandt, one of the first Dutch settlers of New Utrecht, Brooklyn, this street is pronounced “NO-strand,” not “NAH-strand.”
This is one devil of a word to pronounce, but the meaning behind the name is disputed more than its pronunciation. Serving as the name of the creek separating Manhattan and the Bronx and the name of a swanky western Bronx neighborhood, historians can’t agree whether “Spuyten Duyvil” is Dutch for “in spite of the devil,” “spinning devil,” or “spitting stream.” Regardless of what it means, it’s pronounced “SPY-tin DIE-vuhl.”
This nasty, toxic canal in northwestern Brooklyn and its adjacent neighborhood are either named after Native American chief Gouwane, who was one of the leaders of the Canarsee, or “gouwee,” the Dutch word for “bay.” Whichever the namesake, it’s pronounced “guh-WAH-nus” with the emphasis on the middle syllable.
Today synonymous with the epitome of funky and cool, Greenwich Village is the anglicized version of the Dutch name “Groenwijck.” At first glance, this name seems innocuous, but beware of the silent letters. Pronounce it “GREH-nitch” like the second ‘e’ and the ‘w’ aren’t there.
Again with the pesky silent letters, this affluent Staten Island neighborhood is pronounced “Toad” Hill, like the bumpy-skinned animal. If gawking at fancy homes is your thing, Todt Hill is your paradise.
If you plan on visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art, you’ll eventually have a reckoning with this Meatpacking District street name. Named after Peter Gansevoort, a Revolutionary War general, and the military fort that bore his name, Gansevoort is pronounced “GANN-zuh-vohrt.”
Once you master saying Schermerhorn, the pronunciation of this Brooklyn street should be a breeze. Although this name is originally derived from a Mohawk word rather than a Dutch one, just like with the Dutch name Schermerhorn, pronounce the “sch” at the front of the word in the same way that you’d say it in the word “school.” Now say it with me: “skuh-NECK-tah-dee.”
This Brooklyn Heights street is named after Teunis Joralemon, a nineteenth-century saddlemaker and powerful landowner in the area. Rumor has it that he wasn’t too keen on having a street named after him. I’m guessing he foresaw how easily future generations of New Yorkers and tourists could mispronounce his name. For the record, it’s “jer-ALL-ah-men,” with the emphasis on the second syllable.
If you got this name right on the first try and you’re not Polish, you deserve the keys to the city. You’d be hard-pressed to find two New Yorkers who pronounce the name of this Polish-born Revolutionary War general in the same way. Not even our politicians can agree on how this is said, as they showed in this 2017 ceremony commemorating the rebuilding of the bridge. According to Governor Cuomo, the proper Polish pronunciation is “kuh-SHOO-skoh,” but in New York you’ll be fine saying “kah-see-aw-sko.” My heart goes out to all the people who live on this tongue-tying street in Brooklyn.
Which NYC place do you think has the hardest name to pronounce? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!