Before you get all snarky with us, yes, of course Gowanus (the neighborhood) takes its name from the smelly and putrid Gowanus (the canal).
But where did the canal get its name? There’s a fascinating article on MentalFloss.com that details not only how the Gowanus moniker came to be, but how dozens of other Brooklyn neighborhoods came to be named as well. Carroll Gardens comes from Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who led a failed assault on a British encampment near the Gowanus Canal in 1776 and lost about 300 of his 400 troops. Bay Ridge was just a re-branding marketing ploy (sound familiar?) after the neighborhood’s previous name — Yellow Hook, named for the yellow sand near the water — fell out of favor in the 1850s because of an outbreak of yellow fever. As for Gowanus, well:
Named after the canal, which itself was named after Gouwane, a chief of the Lenape (also known as Canarsee) tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area long before any Dutch or British people came and started calling it “Brooklyn” or “Breuckelen.”
Anyone who grows up in New York City learns about the Lenape in grade school, but that particular footnote about a certain chief named Gouwane certainly didn’t make it into the textbooks. Maybe once our neighborhood is properly gentrified by the oncoming Pilepocalypse a few local schools will take note.
Read all about the derivation of other Brooklyn neighborhood names here — fascinating stuff!