I was recently sent this image of a Fteley / Watson Avenues sign from the Soundview Bronx neighborhood. These navy and white signs were employed in Manhattan and the Bronx from the 1910s into the 1960s; Manhattan and the Bronx were the same county (New York County) until 1914, when the Bronx achieved countyhood. Coincidentally, navy and white are Bronx-dwelling New York Yankee colors as well.
When I first started poring over NYC street atlases in the 1970s, I was perplexed while fingering my dogeared Bronx Hagstrom because one of the streets in Soundview, just east of the Bronx River, was spelled Fteley. That had to be a misprint. No word begins with “FT”!
Which leads me to English orthography and spelling trends. Typically, English does not begin words with two consonants; the exception is with digraphs such as bl, br, ch, cr, dr, pr, pl, sl, st and more; these consonants’ sounds go together to produce one sound. Put simply, sometimes words will begin with two consonants that don’t jibe, such as cnidarian, bdellium, or pneumonia, but in cases like that the initial letter is usually silent. English has other quirks, such as a tendency not to end words with the letter “j,” which is usually rendered “dge” at ends of words except in loanwords like haj. I could go on with this, but you get the idea.
Another example of this sort of thing is (now, ex-) Mets pitcher Robert Gsellman, who says it Ga-ZELL-min. “Fteley” is pronounced as spelled, Fa-TELLY.
After awhile after looking at several maps, I ascertained this was no misprint and the name of the street was indeed spelled Fteley and later, I found out it’s pretty much pronounced as spelled, “fa-TEL-lee.” But what a strange name! I’d bet that no other place name in the world, or perhaps even word in any language, begins with “ft” without a vowel separating the two consonants.
t turns out the explanation for the name is somewhat unique, as well. There are groups of streets in Brooklyn named for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, NYC mayors in the NE Bronx, and even classical composers and astronauts in Staten Island. In Soundview, the streets are named for civil engineers! According to John McNamara in History in Asphalt, Alphonse Fteley (1837–1903) was chief designer of the upstate New Croton Dam, which helps supply NYC with its drinking water. Fteley was a French immigrant and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
The story about Fteley signifying “Fort Ely” is “fake news” as there was never a fort in Soundview named Ely.
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