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Tektonomastics: The Building Names Project

October 9, 2010

Launcelot and Elaine, neighboring buildings in Crown Heights, Brooklyn named after star-crossed lovers. For those not familiar with the story, Elaine loved Launcelot (usually spelled “Lancelot”) her whole life – even though Launcelot was devoted to King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere. Eventually Elaine died of heartbreak, but here on Eastern Parkway, someone has thoughtfully restored her lover to her side once more. The two buildings were built almost 100 years apart: Launcelot was added 2006, Elaine was built in 1908.

This is an intriguing project being conducted by Haruka Horiuchi andFrank Hebbert that could be duplicated in other cities or modified for use in classroom projects focused on history, architecture, geography, surnames or about a million other things. I’ve taken an excerpt from the article, which describes Horiuchi and Hebbert’s project and posted it below.

Tektonomastics: The Building Names Project is a collaborative effort to map the named residential buildings of New York City and beyond. But first, what does tektonomastics mean anyway?

“Tektonomastics” is a made-up word, combining “tekto-” — Greek for “building” — with “onomastics” — the study of the history and origin of proper names. More established branches of onomatology include toponomastics (the study of place names) and anthroponomastics (the study of personal names). We are starting a new branch — tektonomastics — or, the study of building names.

After moving to New York, we began to notice intriguing names on residential buildings around our neighborhood in Brooklyn. A lot of the names refer to notable people (Martha Washington,Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln), while others are typical “nice place” names (Majestic Court,Park Central, The Lakeview). But some are just downright quirky (Mattowacks, possibly a long-forgotten name for Long Island), and others are more enigmatic and poetic (Ada, Launcelot,Lillianette). Why did someone chose those particular names for buildings? Why don’t we call them by their proper names anymore? Was there a time when friends said, “Let’s meet at theMartinique at 6”? Or lovers wrote letters addressed to their sweethearts at Monbijou on East 17th Street? More….

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