by Kevin Walsh

There are but two streets in New York City that begin with X. Both are fairly nondescript, but I’m glad they’re there, since X has always gotten short shrift in the naming department, and when most words begin with x, the letter is forced to adopt a different sound, since beginning a word with a “kz” sound would be awkward. Usually, a “z” sound gets the nod.

Both are Xenia Streets: in Corona, Queens, and Old Town, Staten Island.

Xenia (which I had thought was a flower, but that’s zinnia) is a Greek term meaning ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’; it frequently turns up in combined terms like xenophobia, fear of strangers, or philoxenia, kindness toward strangers. It is also a city in Ohio and a variety of coral.

In Corona, Xenia Street is amid a cluster of streets that run NW to SE in defiance of the overall numbered grid. It’s generally nondescript with mid-20th Century homes along it.

Why does this cluster of odd, narrow streets exist? It predated the overall grid that was taking shape in Corona and Forest Hills, and there were already homes constructed there, so the streets were left in place when the rest of the area was developed.

Actually I had hoped to find another “x” street nearby because in Forest Hills, streets were named in an A-Z alphabetical system. Alas, X was passed over in this scheme, with Webb going straight to Yalu. All of these streets were numbered in the 1920s except one: Jewel Avenue.

Washington. DC has letter streets as well as an alphabetical grid, but the letters go from A-W, skipping “J,” and the names generally go from A to W, with Yuma added. No “X.”

In Staten Island, Xenia Street runs for just one block between Hurlbert Street and Mason Avenue in Old Town. It seems to be a standalone “X” street not part of an alphabetical grid. Or… is it?

If you look at the map, there are alphabetized streets: Hickory, Jerome (the I is skipped), Kensington, Lamport, Malloy, Norway, Oberlin, Parkinson, Quintard, Reid, Vulcan and Winfield; the S, T and U streets, Scranton, Tacoma and Urbana, are about a mile west, west of the Staten Island Railway. That leaves the A through G streets; I’m not sure what happened to them, but and X street, Xenia, would fit in with this pattern.

South of here, there’s another loose alphabetical grid in Midland Beach: Baden, Colony, Freeborn, Grimsby etc. I’d love to know the story behind these alphabetical grids.

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Craig Robertson April 1, 2021 - 1:31 pm

What about Avenue X in Brooklyn. – that begins (and ends) with an “x”.

Andy April 4, 2021 - 12:38 am

I was gonna say!

George Gauthier April 1, 2021 - 10:18 pm

X is one of the most wasted letters In the English alphabet since it has no distinctive sound of its own but merely mimics two other sounds. Often in the initial position, the letter X is pronounced with the sound of Z as in Zebra, hence Xanthene or Xenophobe. Otherwise it takes the sound of KS — Not KZ — as in Taxi, taxes, axis, etc. So when foreign languages borrowed the word for a car for hire they spelled it phonetically as Taksi, as in both Turkish and Finnish. The word Xerox illustrates both uses.

Tal Barzilai April 7, 2021 - 6:58 pm

For the most part, the letter X hardly has a sound of its own, though the word x-ray is pretty much the only word where it doesn’t make the sound of any other letters when at the beginning of a word.

Tal Barzilai April 14, 2021 - 11:37 pm

One other thing, there also a lot of words that sound if they start with an X but really have a silent E in front of them such extra, exit, extreme, etc.

Andy April 4, 2021 - 12:42 am

I see neither Webb nor Yalu in the Forrest Hills street grid on either Google Maps or Open Street Maps. Instead I see Olcott, Metropolitan Ave, Sybille (skipping P, Q and R), Ursula (skipping T), and finally Walnut (skipping V).

Kevin Walsh April 4, 2021 - 8:44 am

Webb, Yalu etc were numbered in the 1920s.

Edward April 4, 2021 - 8:40 am

In 1910 Brooklyn’s Avenue X was proposed to be changed to Xerxes Road, as part of a wholesale proposal to “name” all of the lettered avenues that had not already been changed. The proposal went over like a lead balloon and was scrapped.
A seemingly very complicated plan a couple of years later would have named and alphabetized much of Brooklyn’s East and West Numbered streets and would have run the sequence A thru W, leaving out Q and X – Z. Names after W would start again at A. This plan was never adopted.

Kevin McGeary April 5, 2021 - 5:14 pm

Growing up in Corona, I knew there was a Xenia St. near 108th St. and the LIE. In college, I had a friend who lived in Queens whose mother’s first name was Xenia. Several years later, I went to work for the NYC
Department of Traffic, in the Signs and Markings Division. I was able to procure a Xenia St. sign which I gave to my friends mother as a gift. That sign hung in her kitchen ’til the day she died and I’m sure my friend has held on to it since then.


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