Naming in New York #2

In Naming in New York #1, I mentioned districts, counties, and capitalization. In this part, I’ll be covering three other irritations that tourists must deal with from natives.

First, the tendency to call the same piece of land different things depending on one’s immediate location. “Where is Long Island?” Think it’s not a trick question? It is, and I’ll tell you why. Traditionally, “Long Island” is the land east of Queens and Brooklyn made up of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York. But it gets tricky because, technically speaking, Queens and Brooklyn (B&Q) are on Long Island, so sometimes when someone in Manhattan is giving directions, she’ll say, “Head out to Long Island” and actually mean B&Q. But, when a person in Brooklyn or Queens is giving directions, he’ll consider himself to be in part of New York City, not “on Long Island” and will say, “Now, head out to Long Island” and mean everything east of B&Q, not everything east of Manhattan, which includes B&Q.

It gets even more confusing for someone who doesn’t know the area when a native says “Yeah, it’s in Long Island City” because that means the city/neighborhood/district in Queens County, not “Long Island” at all. Likewise, East New York is a district on one of the eastern-most points in Brooklyn, and West New York is actually in New Jersey—not New York City at all. When someone outside the City (say, in Philadelphia or Los Angeles or even Albany) says “the City”, she means all five boroughs of New York City, but when she’s in the City and says “the City”, she means Manhattan only.

It’s easy to tell when you’re overhearing a native or a tourist when they talk about the subway system because tourists use the colors (“We’re trying to find the red line” which always requires further clarification for anyone trying to help them) and natives use letters and numbers, as appropriate (“I’ve gotta catch the D line home, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”) Each letter or number has only one color, but each color has multiple letters or numbers. For example, the “red lines” are the 1, 2, and 3 subway lines and are also sometimes referred to as “the Broadway line” because it runs along Broadway in Manhattan. (The “green lines” are 4/5/6 and are also called “the Lexington Ave. line” for the same reason. And etc.) This can be especially confusing because the “yellow lines” (N/Q/R/W) are also sometimes called “the Broadway line” (though they run along a different part of Broadway). Therefore, the D line is always orange, but the trains on the orange line are not always the D (other “orange line” trains are B/F/V).

Finally, there’s a secret code in New York that confuses tourists when they first arrive. Natives are in the habit of referring to landmarks by their subway stop. For example, whereas everyone else would call it Times Square—and New Yorkers do, too, intermittently—natives called it “42nd Street” much more often. Penn Station, where Amtrak and New Jersey Transit train lines are docked, is “34th Street” and Coney Island is “Stillwell Ave.” Union Square, in Manhattan, is “14th Street” and City Hall is “Chambers Street.”

Be careful, though, because while “42nd Street” usually means Times Square, it can also mean Port Authority or Grand Central Station, depending on which train you’re riding.

Confusing, isn’t it? I could go on and on (as you’ve noticed, I’m sure), but I’m already behind for my next post. So, on with it!

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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