Navigating History: For Albany’s Streets, What’s in a Name?

    Another word for place names is toponym, and the study of those names is a discipline called toponymy. If you’ve ever wondered about the inspiration for some of Albany’s street names—there are some weird ones, after all, like Bacon Lane and Gingerbread Lane—you’re not alone! When you go a step further and attempt to uncover the origins of those names, that makes you a toponymist!

    In December 2018, a particularly-ambitious amateur toponymist named Erik Schlimmer published Cradle of the Union: A Street by Street History of New York’s Capital City. The book is the result of four grueling years of research into the history of Albany’s streets: all 785 of them. A lot of the names are simple—they’re named after soldiers or politicians or inventors—but others have unique backstories that might amuse or even frighten you. Anyone with even a cursory interest in the city’s history and geography would be delighted to flip through the pages of Schlimmer’s impressive compilation.

    Albany has been around for a long time, so it might not surprise you to learn that the names of many of its streets have been changed—more than once, in some cases! For example, late in the 18th century, streets with monikers that paid homage to the English nobility were renamed after animals; King Street became Lion Street, while Queen and Duke became Elk and Eagle, respectively. If you’re curious about these rebrandings, as well as the history of Albany’s other historic avenues and boulevards, Schlimmer’s book might deserve a place on your shelf.