Though the community had one of the greatest cultural impacts on America, Harlem has a dirty etymology. When New York was founded in 1624, it was called New Amsterdam, after the capital of the Netherlands, and was under Dutch rule. Similarly, when Harlem was created in 1658, they called it New Harlem after a city in the Netherlands named Haarlem (the New was subsequently dropped in a shortening). That Haarlem is currently a suburb of Amsterdam with a decent-sized population of 160,000, but where did it get its name from? Dutch, obviously: the first part, haar, meant "height", and the second part, lem, meant "silt", referring to it being on a high bank of a local river. For some reason, I couldn't find origins beyond that, but this is no doubt Proto-Germanic, and, by extension, Proto-Indo-European. It's pretty weird thinking of a hidden Dutch presence under a black cultural center, isn't it?
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.