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What's In A Name!
Douglas Tuomey - 1960
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Long Island Town Names Then and Now

    The Original Americans, as we all know, were Indians, therefore most of us who now call ourselves Americans are the descendents of immigrants. All over this country we find names which reflect the memories of the European countries from which our fore-fathers came, and this is particularly true of places in the original thirteen states. Many of these names are prefaced with the word "New," as in New England, New York, New Jersey, New Bedford, New Amsterdam and a hundred others.
    We also find numerous other site names which reflect the bond between the original settlers and their homeland in Europe. English, Dutch, German, Irish, Scotch, French and Italian names are scattered over the Atlantic coast, and as the immigrants spread westward they carried titles derived from those countries with them.
    Frequently, when selecting a name for a newly opened territory, they adopted an Indian name for the site, if they could think of nothing better, and at other times would name it after some very outstanding or striking landmark such as a mountain, spring, or lake. As villages grew and streets were laid out, we find much repetition.
    How many cities in the United States we wonder, have streets named after trees and in how many villages do we find a Maple, Walnut, Spruce, Pine, Oak, Chestnut and Willow Street?
    All of this is, of course, typically American procedure, but it seems that for pure originality and down-to-earth description of a site, the Long Islander of old was hard to beat when it came to naming a place. We give below some of the odd names which have survived from Colonial or Civil War days, with the legend or description of how they came to be so called.

EXECUTION ROCK: On the shore of Long Island Sound, in the Oyster Bay area, there is an outcropping of rock used in Colonial days for the execution of murderers. The man was manacled with chains, to staples driven into the rock at low tide, and as the tide rose he would be engulfed.

WHISKEY ROAD: The legend goes that during the cutting through of this road work was too slow to please the foreman, so he bought a keg of whiskey, placed it in a wheel-barrow and kept moving it along ahead of the workmen. As the gang reached the wheel-barrow every man was allowed one drink. The road is west of Yaphank.

ROGUES LANE: Near Huntington. Now an excellent thoroughfare, but in the old days lined with shacks in which lived people of undesirable reputation.

FIREPLACE: Brookhaven was once called Fireplace. The story goes that years ago when shore-whalers operated across the bay, on the beach, and when their supplies ran low, they would build a large fire of brush as a sign for their families to bring renewed stores to the shore. When these were ready, a fire would be built to notify the whalers.

SHELTER ROCK: Most people living on Long Island know the Shelter Rock Road leading from the Southern State Parkway to Manhasset. In ColOnial days this was a cow-path, and a. huge overhanging ledge of rock provided shelter for cattle and other livestock during severe snow-storms and bitter weather,

FLINT-LOCK PATH: Leaving the hollow near Hauppauge, the road winds north to the old village of Smithtown. To the right, a narrow road, plainly marked "Flint-Lock Path" leads into the hills. Here, we understand, an outcropping of flint rock formerly provided flints for Indian arrow-heads, and later for the muskets of settlers.

RAM PASTURE ROAD: This name we are informed, came from the use of a broad meadow clown near the bay, where the rams were separated from the sheep. The road is still so named and is in the present Hampton Bays section.

TELEGRAPH ROAD: There are still men living who can remember when the present Fifth Avenue in Bay Shore was known as Telegraph Road. The telegraph office was housed in a small wood building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street, Bay Shore. This road was surveyed and cut through by the U.S. Army as a prime necessity for communication between the North and South Shores of Long Island.

RACCOON BEACH: A heavily wooded area on Fire Island now known as The Sunken Forest of Point OWoods. (In reality, this area is not below sea-level, but well above it.) The area got the name because it once swarmed with raccoons and fox; and believe it or not, mink.

GRIND-STONE INLET: At approximately the time of the War of 1812, a ship heavily laden with grind-stones was wrecked at the inlet in the Moriches area. The passage was almost completely blocked and the heretofore unnamed inlet became Grind-Stone.

SEAL ISLAND: In the waters between Great South Bay and Jamaica Bay, there is an island which in Colonial days was a favorite haunt of seals. The early settlers went there to shoot the animals for the oil, which resembled whale oil. Hence the name.

CAPTREE ISLAND: This name is one of the mysterious items, as there have been scores of explanations advanced regarding the origin. The name appears on maps and charts as far back as 1690. Probably the most logical one is the legend that says that at one time there was a very tall, dead tree on the island. This was used by fishermen as a guide when running the inlet. To make it easier to spot, one of the early settlers climbed the tree and pulled his heavy, knitted, sailors cap over the top of the trunk.

GILGO BEACH: According to an old legend, a family named Burch lived on the mainland south of Gilgo Inlet. They had a son, famous for his prowess as a fisherman, and called Gill Burch. When neighbors wanted to make sure of a good catch, they would decide to go where "Gill goes."

PLUM GUT: A gut is the Dutch name for a narrow passage between two bodies of water and where the current is swift and deep. In 1670 a Dutch vessel was wrecked here, and the captains diary relates how profusely wild plums grew on both sides of the channel. From then on, the local inhabitants referred to the waterway as Plum Gut.

WOLF HILL ROAD: Located in the Huntington area. In Colonial day a pack of wolves lived and raised their litters among the almost impenetrable jumble of rocks on top of the hill. The raids on cattle and chickens of the early settlers and attacks on children, finally led to an organized attack on the hill and the extermination of the pack.

ROUND SWAMP ROAD: Crossing the Northern State Highway just as you pass the Nassau-Suffolk boundrry. At one time this was a narrow dirt road which skirted a swamp. Looking down on the swamp from an adjacent high hill, it was so clearly defined and perfectly round, that one would think it had been drawn with a compass.

PUNKS HOLE: Now known as Manorville. In 1875 the population of Punks Hole was 318 people, many of whom were engaged in the making of charcoal, which was generally referred to as punk because of its slow-burning and lasting qualities as a fuel.

OLD FIELD: The origin of this well known name is dimmed by the mist of 200 years, but according to the best authorities the name originally was used to indicate the first cleared field on the estate of the first owner. With the passing of years and the clearing of new acres, cattle would be sent out to graze on the new pastures or to the "old field."

SADDLE ROCK: So called because of a large out-cropping of rock, which seen from afar resembled a huge high-pommeled saddle.

SKUNKS MISERY: Near the area now known as MIalverne there was a large swamp which was used by the settlers of Lynbrook as a dump. It was infested with skunks who lived on the refuse. The athmosphere was so odorous that people wondered how the skunks endured it.

WHOOPING BOYS HOLLOW: Hard to believe, but true. This long, shallow hollow is on the road between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. The legend is that in Colonial days a boy was chased by an Indian brandishing a knife, but he whooped and screamed for help so loudly as he ran that the Indian gave up the chase.

BRIGHT WATERS: In Indian the original name of this community was "Wohseepee" which meant sparkling or bright waters. Before the white man came this was a favorite camping site for the local Indians, as the fresh, spring-fed lakes provided water for cooking and drinking. The lakes also attracted deer and other game. When the area was developed into the present residential community, excavation work uncovered hundreds of arrow-heads, bone fish-hooks and crude pottery.

MUTTONTOWN: According to the best information we have been able to obtain, the area around this village was best known for sheep-raising in Colonial times, and a large slaughter-house was located here. The early settlers seldom ate lamb, an almost unheard of luxury, and the meat was known as mutton. The title does not appear on any very old maps, but we have been advised that the new Nassau County Museum which is to be constructed, is on the site of ground that old deeds indicate was once occupied by sheep-pens, used to separate and sort out the herds.

THREE SISTERS ROAD: In the St. James area. This is a very, very old road. In fact so ancient that the origin cannot be definitely established. One theory is that an early settler who had three daughters, lived near the road, but this is disputed. Another theory, and probably the best, is that the name goes back before there were any settlers and an Indian had three daughters who were always seen walking hand in hand through this woodland path.

    These are but a few of the hundreds of odd names given to points on Long Island by the early settlers, and it is doubtful if many persons know their origin.
    The writer is deeply indebted to three distinguished gentlemen for their assistance in preparing this article; Paul Bailey, Suffolk County Historian, George Lewis Weeks, ,Jr Islip Town Historian, and the late Osborn Shaw, Brookhaven Town Historian.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1960 No Copyright Information Data Found