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Is the street you live on named after a politician, the color of dirt, or a family riddled with secrets and murder?

Brooklyn streets, parks and sites are dripping with history, and husband-and-wife team Leonard Bernardo and Jennifer Weiss have hung them all out to dry in their dictionary of street smarts, "Brooklyn By Name."

"There are so many streets we come across so frequently, but have no conception of their origin," said Bernardo.

"We spent time in all of the branch libraries throughout Brooklyn," said Weiss, who lives in Park Slope with Bernardo. "We read hundreds of books on Brooklyn, found street card indexes, and poured through old Brooklyn College master theses written in the 1960s about street name origins."

The book tells stories like that of Cropsey Avenue. The Bath Beach street got its name from the landowning Cropsey clan, whose family tree included a relative with a heavenly vocation (construction supervisor for the New Utrecht Reformed Church) as well as a murderer, who killed his wife in their Bath Beach home, only to admit, "I did a rash act. I am sorry. I suppose I’ll go to the electric chair."

A fun fact about the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from "Brooklyn By Name": it was almost called the Staten Island Bridge when Islanders pouted that they were the only borough without their own bridge.

Weiss recalled the nefarious act behind the renaming of a Park Slope street.

"We uncovered an interesting murder case, which resulted in the changing of DeGraw Street to Lincoln Place," she said. Their book describes the 1873 murder of Charles Goodrich who was shot by his lover, Lizzie Lloyd King, before he could end their relationship.

"[Local 19th century residents] wanted to rid the street of its murder association, so DeGraw Street above Fifth Avenue is now Lincoln Place," summed up Weiss.

The authors claim that other street names continue to pay homage to Brooklyn forebears with despicable associations.

"We were surprised to find the number of streets that were named for slaveholders," said Weiss. "Early founding families owned slaves, but that didn’t in any way prevent streets from being named after them, as evil an institution as it was." Examples include Ingraham Street in Bushwick and Flatlands’s Hubbard Street.

"There are roughly 600 entries, but we don’t cover everything," said Bernardo. "As we say in the introduction, it would take a lifetime to know Brooklyn. We left room for other excavators to fill in the blanks."

"Brooklyn By Name" (NYU Press, $17.95) by Leonard Bernardo and Jennifer Weiss is available at Barnes & Noble [106 Court St. at State Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 246-4996 and 267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope, (718) 832-9066]. For more information, visit www.brooklynbyname.com.

- Jovana Rizzo
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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