Each day, millions of people “take” the Major Deegan, the Hutchinson Expressway, the Outerbridge Crossing, and the Holland Tunnel. Few travelers remember that, before these names were attached to New York’s many roads, bridges, tunnels, neighborhoods and institutions, they were actual people. In Naming Gotham, her quirky take on New York City history, law professor Rebecca Bratspies uses the naming of New York City’s infrastructure as a unique window into urban social structures and the City’s ever-changing inhabitants. The lives of Revolutionary War figures, civil rights heroes, robber barons, and Tammany Hall politicos introduce readers to the vibrant personalities behind the names that have become New York’s urban shorthand for traffic jams, culture and recreation.

Naming Gotham: The Villains, Rogues, and Heroes Behind New York’s Place Names

Rebecca Bratspies is a longtime resident of Astoria, Queens. She is a professor at CUNY School of Law. A scholar of environmental justice and human rights, Rebecca has written scores of law review articles; four other books, including Environmental Justice: Law Policy and Regulation; and three environmental justice comic books: Mayah’s Lot, Bina’s Plant and Troop’s Run (with Charlie LaGreca-Velasco). She serves on NYC’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board, is a scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform and is a member of the NYC Bar Environmental Committee. ABA-SEER honored her work with its 2021 Commitment to Diversity and Justice Award.


“Rebecca Bratspies’ Naming Gotham presents a sometimes dishy, sometimes disturbing, always fascinating look at the lives of the men and women whose names grace New York City’s neighborhoods, roads, bridges, stadiums and monuments. This deeply researched but never dry or academic look at NYC will delight both visitors and New Yorkers alike, and give them a lot to think about as they walk, ride and drive around the city.” -Pauline Frommer, editor Frommers’ New York.

“In the rush of daily life, we tend to traverse our communities with little awareness of the visions, struggles and travails of those who shaped vital structures or whose lives are memorialized in their names. For the world’s greatest metropolis, Rebecca Bratspies has helped fill that awareness gap by crafting an illuminating guide to the people behind New York City’s transportation, recreational and institutional landmarks.” – Andrew Revkin, journalist and co-author with George Steinmetz ofThe Human Planet – Earth at the Dawn of the Anthropocene

“I could not stop reading this book.” –Christine B. Harrington, NYU Professor of Politics