If you’ve ever found yourself among the throngs that frequent Manayunk’s nightlife scene, you were apparently doing exactly what the first settlers intended. The Northwest Philly neighborhood got its name from the Lenape word for “place where we go to drink.” Yep!
If that has you wondering about the meaning behind other local place names, you’re in luck.
Hobbyist Adam Aleksic recently handcrafted a map of Philadelphia that features brief etymologies of dozens of neighborhoods around the city.
The full list is written out below, but here are some highlights: Kensington is named after a district in London. Grays Ferry was named after an actual ferry that used to be stationed in the neighborhood, run by a man named George Gray.
The ‘etymology nerd’
A couple surprises about Aleksic. One, he’s young — just a high school senior. Two, he’s not from Philly and has never visited. This etymology map is just a thing he does.
Philadelphia is the sixth city he’s given this treatment, putting it on a list that includes Chicago, New Orleans and Manhattan. He’s also turned the etymology of coffee and the human body into easily digestible infographics. Aleksic has been running his website, called “The Etymology Nerd,” for two years now from his home in Albany, New York.
And this guy hasn’t yet graduated high school.
Aleksic said he loves running the site because it combines his academic interests.
“This is sort of a pointed combination of history and English,” he said. “Plus geography and graphic design. It’s just piling on things that I like.”
When he shared his work, the post got pretty good feedback — more than 1,000 upvotes on reddit, and 83 likes on Instagram. A look through people’s comments shows the Manayunk drinking connection was one of the more popular takeaways.
“I can’t attest to all of them, but that one is real,” one person commented on the reddit post. “I grew up in Manayunk. It refers to the Schuylkill River and the Wissahickon Creek being relatively safe sources of drinking water. It’s a different but equally appropriate name now.”
Another commenter astutely observed: “Them Lenape knew how to throw down.”
Adam Aleksic’s Philadelphia neighborhood etymology
We ran through Aleksic’s list, and found some context for each description. Here’s the brief background of 43 Philly neighborhood names.
- Andorra: After the European country
- Byberry: After a town in England
- Bella Vista: Italian for “beautiful view”
- Bridesburg: After ferry operator Joseph Kirkbride
- Bustleton: After a city named Busselton in England
- Callowhill: After Hannah Callowhill Penn, William Penn’s second wife
- Eastwick: Named for locomotive builder Andrew Eastwick
- Feltonville: After the rich Felton family
- Fern Rock: After the estate of arctic explorer and medical officer Elisha Kane
- Fox Chase: Affluent colonists came to hunt in this region
- Francisville: After lawyer Tench Francis
- Frankford: After the Frankfurt Company, which owned land in the early days of Philadelphia
- Girard Estates: After banker and philanthropist Stephen Girard
- Grays Ferry: There used to be an actual ferry there, run by landowner George Gray
- Holmesburg: After an immigrant named John Holme
- Juniata Park: From Lenape onenhia, meaning “standing stone”
- Kensington: After the London district
- Kingsessing: Derives from a Lenape word for “meadow place”
- Logan: Named for plantation owner James Logan
- Manayunk: Lenape for “place where we go to drink”
- Mantua: Named for the Italian city
- Mayfair: After an affluent district in London
- Mount Airy: Named after the estate of former mayor William Allen
- Moyamensing: Native American origins; possibly meaning “place of pigeon droppings“
- Nicetown: After Dutch settlers Hans and Jan de Neus
- Olney: After the birthplace of English poet William Cowper
- Packer Park: After William Packer, a former governor of Pennsylvania
- Passyunk Square: From Lenape pachsegink, meaning “in the valley”
- Pennypack: From the Lenape penepekw, meaning “deep water”
- Port Richmond: After a London suburb
- Powelton: After politician Samuel Powel
- Queen Village: In honor of Christina, Queen of Sweden in the mid-1600s
- Rhawnhurst: After landowners George and William Rhawn
- Rittenhouse: After astronomer David Rittenhouse
- Roxborough: After Roxburghshire, Scotland, the home of an early settler
- Somerton: In honor of Jacob Somer, a state senator
- Swampoodle: Possibly a corruption of “swampy puddle”
- Tacony: Possibly from a Lenape word meaning “wilderness”
- Tioga: Lenape for “at the forks”
- Torresdale: After a local banker’s ancestral home in Scotland
- Whitman: After the poet Walt Whitman
- Wissinoming: A Lenape word for “place where the grapes grow”
- Wynnefield: Named for Thomas Wynne, William Penn’s physician