How Do You Pronounce Houston Street (and Schermerhorn, and Desbrosses, and...)?

Published on Jun 23, 2011

This week Brian gives us a tutorial on how to pronounce some of those odd street & neighborhood names you see around town (most of which seem to be in Brooklyn and The Bronx). If you don't want to be mistaken for a tourist, you need to either brush up on your Dutch, or use the cheat sheet below.

New Yorkers have no problem pronouncing the name “Stuyvesant”, yet tourists often butcher this, among other tricky words found around town. But for some street names, like “Desbrosses”, “Fteley” or “Schermerhorn” the pronunciation differs depending on who you speak to, locals and visitors alike. Several names have their origins in Dutch, many being attributed to important figures of the city’s history as New Netherlands. However, over the years the original pronunciations have been influenced by Brooklyn and Bronx accents.

One sure way to spot a tourist, or a newbie to the city: how do they pronounce Houston Street? For the record, if you're in NYC, it's pronounced 'HOW-stuhn.' If you say 'HYOO-stuhn' you better be talking about Texas.

“DeKalb” is one name that seems to be rather flexible. Since moving to the city, I have always said “DEE-kalb” (sounding of “a” as in “bald”), while others insist it is “di-KALB” (sounding of “a” as in the name “Al”). As a non-native, I acquired my pronunciation from the female recording that says “This is…. DEE-kalb Avenue,” in addition to overhearing it on the street. But I do, although infrequently, hear the inflection on the second syllable similar to the way the DeKalb County of Georgia is pronounced. But I feel it is safe to say that in Brooklyn, the emphasis is on the “DEE” rather than the “kalb”. The name comes in honor of the German soldier Johann de Kalb, who became a Major General for the Continental Army during American Revolution.

Schermerhorn comes from the name of the successful Schermerhorn family that dealt with the shipping industry from Albany to New York from the late 17th to early 18th centuries. As many historical figures have their legends remembered through street signs, Schermerhorn is most known from the “Hoyt-Schermerhorn” A & G train station near Downtown Brooklyn. While some outsiders may say “SHER-mer-horn” and those familiar with New York may say “SKER-mer-horn”, the true Brooklyn way is all in the accent: “SKIM-mah-hawn”.

Another New York no-no... if you ask where "Taffy Place" is, expect to get sent to a candy store, and not to Taaffe Place.

Below is a pronunciation guide to the streets and nabes that seem to give the most trouble to newcomers:

  •  Arrochar  - [AR-oh-kar]: From Arrochar, Scotland.
  •  Classon - [CLAW-son]: From the Dutch name “Claeson”, and probably more specifically in honor of Claeson Wyckoff, who was an early Dutch settler.
  • Conselyea - [con-SEHL-yuh]
  • Cortelyou  - [cor-TELL-you]: In honor of Jacques Cortelyou, the Serveyor General of New Amsterdam.
  • Desbrosses  [des-BROS-sez]: Named for Elias Desbrosses, who was a New York merchant during the 18th century, and the senior warden at Trinity Church.
  • DeKalb - [dee-KALB]
  • Dieterle - [DEE-ter-leh]: From the Dieterle family, who settled the Pennsylvania region in the mid 18th century.
  • Farragut - [FAR-uh-guht]: In honor of American Civil War Admiral David Farrag
  • Fteley - [fuh-TEL-ly]: In honor of Alphonse Fteley, who designed the New Croton Damn at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Gowanus  - [go-WAN-us]: From the Delaware Indian term “gowane” meaning “small pine.”
  • Houston  - [HOW-stuhn]:  In honor of William Houstoun, a delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention in the late 18th century.
  • Huguenot - [YOO-ga-not]
  • Joralemon  [jo-RAL-emon]: In honor of Teunis Joralemon, a Kings County judge at the turn of the 19th century. Kosciuszko - [in NYC: koss-ee-OSS-ko, in Poland: ko-SHOOS-ko]: In honor of Polish soldier Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who became a General to help lead the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
  • Maujer  - [MOY-jer]:  In honor of Daniel Maujer, a commissioner who helped develop a Brooklyn equivalent of Central Park in the 19th century.
  • Meserole  - [MEH-suh-rohl]: In honor of Archibald Meserole Bliss, who was a Congressman, a member of the Brooklyn board of water commissioners, the president and vice-president of the Bushwick Railroad Company, and Director of the New York & Long Island Bridge Company.
  • Middagh  - [MID-daw]: From the Middagh family, major landowners from the time of the New Netherlands Colony.
  • Montague - [MON-tuh-gyo]
  • Morrisania  [mor-uh-SAY-nee-uh]: In honor of the aristocratic Morris family, who owned the majority of the name-sake neighborhood.
  • Mosholu  [mah-SHOO-la]: From the Algonquin term meaning “smooth stones” or “small stones”.
  • [New] Utrecht  - [YOO-trekt]: From Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  • Neponsit  - [nee-PAHN-set]: From the Native American term for “the place between waters.”
  • Nostrand  - [NOE-strand]:  In honor of Gerret Noorstrandt, who was an early member of the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church.
  • Schermerhorn - [SKIM-mah-hawn (with accent), also SKIM-mer-horn, SKER-mer-horn]
  • Schuylerville  - [SKY-ler-vil]: From the Schuyler family, who were Dutch settlers from Albany, New York.
  • Spuyten Duyvil  - [SPY-ten DIE-vul]: A Dutch term with one of several possible meanings: “Spinning Devil,” “Devil’s Whilpool,” or “Devil’s Spate
  • Stuyvesant  - [STAHY-vuh-suhnt]: In honor of Peter Stuyvesant of the 17th century, the final Dutch General of the New Netherlands colony.
  • Taaffe Place - [TAF, in Ireland TAYF]
  • Ten Eyck  - [TEN-eyek]:  From the Ten Eyck family, who were German settlers of New Netherlands.
  • Todt - [TOTE]
  • Van Wyck - [van WICK]
  • Vermilyea - [vur-MIL-yuh]

So, how many of those did you know? Did Brian miss any you want to know about? Let us know.

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