How Staten Island Got Its Name

It’s like this… Henry Hudson, the English explorer who convinced the Dutch government to finance his trip to the New World in 1609, was finally approaching land after months at sea. Henry, who despite his European heritage had an unexplainable Brooklyn accent, was notified of a land sighting by his men. Looking through the primitive eyeglass of the day, he said with excitement, “Is dat an Eyelandt?!!!”

No. Just kidding.

First inhabited by the Lenape Indians in the 16th century, the Indians referred to the island as “Aquehonga”, and as “Monacnong”, which translates as “Enhanted Woods”. (And, we totally get that, because Staten Island today still has more green space than any other part of New York City.)

In 1609, when Hudson arrived, he named it “Staaten Eylandt” after the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament which had financed his voyage to the New World. And that is the name that stuck, although Anglicized, of course, to “Staten Island”.

The Dutch, who successfully settled Manhattan, didn’t make a lot of progress in settling Staten Island, and it was the British who later firmly established it. In 1683, King Charles of England rechristened the island “Richmond County”, after King James II of England, who also was Duke of Richmond.

When Staten Island became part of the Greater New York City in 1898, it became the “Borough of Richmond”. In 1975, the city changed this to make “Borough of Staten Island” its official name. The Borough of Staten Island actually includes more than just Staten Island itself; today the boundaries of the borough also encompass Prall’s Island, Island of Meadows, and part of Shooter’s Island. At one time, Ward’s Island was also part of the County, but it is now part of Manhattan.

If you are doing genealogy, I think the proper citation is therefore “Staten Island, Richmond County, New York”. Or, if you have a town/neighborhood name, then “Town, Staten Island, Richnond County, New York.” Other opinions welcome!

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4 thoughts on “How Staten Island Got Its Name

  1. Hi,

    I have been trying to find out about the name change of Staten Island from Richmond in 1975. I was happy to find your site, because Google and Wikipedia gloss over the fact with no explanation. I think the name change of a large city/county/borough is big news. I am curious why the name was changed in 1975? Was it always referred to as SI and this was just an eventual formality? Or, was the borough commonly referred to as Richmond and then there was a popular movement to revert back to the original name given by Hudson?

    Thank you. I appreciate your site.

    James

    • Hi James,

      That’s a great question. Staten Island was always called Staten Island by the locals. Richmond was the formal name imposed by the British, and that was the name inherited by the new Borough when Staten Island joined New York City. But it never made much sense to call it that, and it just caused confusion, so formality finally gave way to common sense. Now, the 5th Borough of New York City is called the Borough of Staten Island. But as far as the State of New York is concerned, there still exists a county called Richmond, as well.

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