Houston is the name of the most populated city in Texas, named after Sam Houston in 1836. it is pronounced “Hew-ston” or “Heuston.”
Houston Street in New York City is named (by at least 1805) after William Houstoun, a landowner. It is pronounced “House-ton” or “Howston.” The letter “u” in “Houstoun” was dropped to form “Houston.”
Why the difference? It could have been person preference. “Houston” and “Houstoun” appear to be of Scottish origin, meaning “Hugo’s Town” or “Hugh’s Town.” The name Houston has nothing to do with the Dutch “Huijs Tuijn,” which means “House Garden.” Although it sounds similar (and is explained in one citation below), this is a false etymology with no historical basis.
William Houstoun came from Georgia, and there is a Houston County in Georgia—also pronounced “House-ton.”
Wikipedia: Houston Street (Manhattan)
Houston Street (pronounced /ˈhaʊstən/ “HOW-stin") is a major east-west thoroughfare in downtown Manhattan. It runs crosstown across the full width of the borough of Manhattan, from Pier 40 on the Hudson River, through the Port Authority Truck Terminal on Greenwich Street, to the East River, and serves as the boundary between the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and SoHo on the West Side, and between the East Village and the Lower East Side on the East Side. The numeric street-naming grid in Manhattan, created as part of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, begins immediately north of Houston Street with 1st Street at Avenue A, although the grid does not take full hold until 13th Street.
Houston Street is named for William Houstoun, who was a Delegate to the Continental Congress for the State of Georgia from 1784 through 1786 and to the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787. The street was christened by Nicholas Bayard III, whose daughter, Mary, was married to Houstoun in 1788. The couple met while Houstoun, a member of an ancient and aristocratic Scottish family, was serving in the Congress. Bayard cut the street through a tract he owned in the vicinity of Canal Street in which he lived, and the city later extended it to include North Street, the northern border of New York’s east side at the beginning of the 19th Century.
The current spelling of the name is a corruption: the street appears as Houstoun in the city’s Common Council minutes for 1808 and the official map drawn in 1811 to establish the street grid that is still current. In those years, the Texas hero Sam Houston, for whom the street is sometimes said to have been named, was an unknown teenager in Tennessee. Also mistaken is the explanation that the name derives from the Dutch words huis for house and tuin for Garden.
The street name Houston confuses many people from outside of New York (invariably becoming one of the easiest signs of spotting tourists) because the letters “ou” are pronounced as in the word house (pronounced /ˈhaʊstən/), whereas the same letters in the name of the city of Houston, Texas are pronounced like the “u” in huge (pronounced /ˈhjuːstən/ or /ˈjuːstən/ “HYOO-stin"}}). This is because Houston Street was named for William Houstoun (note that the spelling is different), long before the fame of Sam Houston, for whom the city in Texas is named. Some people mistakenly believe that the pronunciation was popularized by the accents of local Jewish immigrants.
Forgotten NY - Houston Street
FIRST of all, we’ll get Houston Street’s derivation, and its unusual pronunciation, out of the way: The street from the Hudson River to Bedford had acquired its name by 1803, when Texas general, senator and governor Sam Houston (1793-1863) was ten years old. Couldn’t be him. Other accounts have the name derived from the Dutch term huystujn ("garden house") from the Bleecker family gardens, on which the street was laid out.
Most likely, though, Houston Street is named for a congressman from Georgia, William Houstoun, who married Mary Bayard: her father Nicholas owned the land in Greenwich Village through which he cut the street in the early 1800s, naming it for his son-in-law. Houstoun spelled his name with that extra ‘u’ and likely pronounced his name Howstoon or Howston. Over time the extra letter fell out while the pronunciation remained.
New York Times
By JESSE MCKINLEY
Published: November 12, 1995
Q. Why is Houston Street pronounced as it is? In other words, who put the “House” in Houston?
A. The “ou” in Houston is pronounced like an “ow,” rather than the “oo” sound of the Texas city, because that was likely the way William Houstoun pronounced his name. And the street was named in his honor, according to “The Street Book” by Henry Moscow (Hagstrom, 1978).
Mr. Houstoun was a Georgian delegate to the Continental Congress of 1784 who secured his place on New York City maps by marrying the daughter of Nicholas Bayard III, who owned part of the land on which Houston street is built. Sometime in the early 1800’s, the spelling of the street was shortened. Houston, Tex., on the other hand, was named after Samuel Houston, who was the fiery president of the Republic of Texas and pronounced his name with the “oo” sound.
The name is derived from either a truncation of “Hugh’s Town,” an area outside Glasgow named after an early 17th-century landlord, or from the Mac Uistean clan, another Scottish family, according to “A Dictionary of Surnames,” by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges (Oxford University Press, 1988).
Michael Agnes, editorial director of the Webster’s New World Dictionary, said the discrepancy in pronunciation probably comes down to a familial preference. Mr. Agnes also said the “ow” sound of New York’s street makes sense. “Pronouncing ‘h-o-u-s’ as ‘house’ is perfectly logical,” said Mr. Agnes. “I mean, the name Houseman is pronounced ‘houseman.’ “
Houston Surname Origin
(Locality). From the parish of Houston, in Renfrewshire, Scotland. There is an old tradition, that in the reign of Malcolm IV., A.D. 1153, Hugh Padvinan obtained a grant of the barony of Kilpeter, from Baldwin of Biggar, sheriff of Lanark, and hence called Hughstown, corrupted into Houstoun. These Houstons were of great consideration in Renfrewshire.
Source: An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names With an Essay on their Derivation and Import; Arthur, William, M.A.; New York, NY: Sheldon, Blake, Bleeker & CO., 1857.
Wikipedia: Houston, Renfrewshire
Houston is a village in Renfrewshire, Scotland. It is separated between an old centre and a new, with both housing a number of small shops, restaurants and public houses. The village is mainly composed of housing developed at various times and chiefly serves as a dormitory village for nearby Glasgow and Paisley. Houston was originally and traditionally known as Kilpeter (”Cille Pheadair“ in Scottish Gaelic).
The old village was designated a conservation area in 1968.
The term ‘Houston’ is a concatenation of “Hu’s town”, Hu being Hugo De Padvinan, also known as Hugh de Padinan. Hugo apparently was granted the lands which comprised the barony of Kilpeter, Houston’s former name - from the dedication of a now lost church to St Peter, in the 12th century. Hugo was an 11th century Knight Templar who followed Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland and progenitor of the Royal House of Stewart. The village eventually sprung up around the family’s castle.
American History and Genealogy Project: Houston County, GA
Houston ["H-o-w-s-t-o-n"] County was named for John Houstoun, son of Sir Patrick Houston, one of the companions of Oglethorpe.
Before the Treaty of Indian Spring on 8 January 1821, Georgia’s jurisdiction extended only to the Ocmulgee River. Beyond, to the west, was Indian country in possession of the Creeks. On that day, the Creek tribes ceded their lands lying between the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers to Georgia.
On 15 May 1821, an act of the General Assembly was approved and provided that the lands acquired be divided into 5 counties: Henry, Fayette,Monroe, Houston, and Dooly. Houston County’s eastern boundary was the Ocmulgee; it’s western, the Flint River. It extended to the north to a line commencing on the Ocmulgee river opposite Fort Hawkins (now the city of Macon), and to the south to another line commencing on the Ocmulgee opposite the town of Hartford.
Wikipedia: Houston County, Georgia
Houston County (pronounced house-ton, not Hugh-stun like the Texas city of Houston) is a county located in the U.S. state of Georgia. It was created on May 15, 1821. It is part of the Warner Robins, Georgia Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2000 census, the population is 110,765. Explosive growth in the county is evident, with the Census 2005 estimates showing a population of 126,163. This makes Houston County the fastest growing county in Georgia not within Atlanta’s CSA. Its county seat is Perry, Georgia6. The county is named not after the familiar Texas military hero but rather after Georgia governor John Houstoun (who used that spelling during his lifetime).
9 January 1805, American Citizen (New York, NY), pg. 2 ad:
2 ditto on Houston-street
21 September 1829, Baltimore (MD) Patriot, pg. 1 ad:
MISS AGNELEICA GILBERT has removed her BOARDING SCHOOL to New York, and taken a commodious house in the Northern part of the City, (Houstoun street No. 90, near Broad Way,) aided by competent assistants, experienced in teaching.
15 February 1895, Portsmouth (OH) Daily Times, Observations, pg. 2, col. 2:
“When we speak of Houston, Tex.,” said a man, “we call it Hooston, or Hewston, don’t we? But when we speak of Houston street, New York, we say Howston. Now, why do you suppose we pronounce one one way and the other another?”
27 July 1904, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 6, col. 4:
Denison Gazetteer: The “cultured” people of the East persist in pronouncing Houston “Howston.” In Texas the name of the Bayou City is pronounced “Heuston” by everybody. It has been claimed that Gen. Sam Houston, after whom the city was named, said the proper pronunciation of his name was Howston, but it was never so pronounced by the old Texans, and if universal usage settles such question, then Houston should be pronounced “Heuston.”
Some even go so far as to call it Hooston, which is the limit.
8 April 1916, Daily Alaska Dispatch, “Houston (Pronounce it ‘Hewston’ ) High in President Wilson’s Counsel,” pg. 5:
before anything else is said of David Franklin Houston, secretary of agriculture, who was named as probable secretary of war soon after Mr. Garrison resigned, and before Baker wa appointed, let it be known that he pronounces his name “Hewston,” in the Texas manner, not “Howston,” as New York pronounces it.
26 January 1928, Richwood (OH) Gazette, “They Call It ‘Hewston,’” pg. 4, cols. 4-5:
Vagaries of the English language as it is spoken in different parts of this country have often been a cause for unholy joy on the part of foreigners, and the selection of the city of Houston as the meeting place of the coming Democratic national convention is now causing discussion concerning the pronunciation of the word.
Jesse H. Jones, chairman of the arrangements committee for the convention, who has just arrived in New York, gives us first-hand information on the disputed question. Houston is not “Howston” as it is pronounced in parts of the north, nor “Hooston” as they say it in New England. It is “Hewston”, as they say it in Texas and they certainly deserve the right to tell us how it should be said.
Incidentally the people of St. Louis inform us that it would please them if we would pronounce the name of their town Saint Loo-ey, and not Saint Lewis, as some of the misinformed would have it.—Philadelphia Inquirer.
4 March 1928, Charleston (WV) Daily Mail, “Houston; the Man and the City,” pg. 6, cols. 2-3:
Hewes-Ton is the way we have been pronouncing the Democratic convention city, but along came a paper drummer and called it “house-ton.” Then we “looked it up.” Webster gives “ou” the long “u” pronunciation as is “use.” Century gives it as both “Hew-ston” and “House-ton.” Another commercial traveler has been in to see us and he declares that he has been there and it is pronounced with a Scotch drawl, Houston. All the people we have known by the name pronounced it Huse-ton.
The foregoing is from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. The “ou” in the name is hardly pronounced as the “ow” in “how.”
Sam Houston, after whom the city was named, was born on Timber Ridge, Rockbridge county, Virginia, near Lexington. A monument at the site so divides the Lee Highway that the tourist can pass on either side of it. members of the original family still live in the county and in Lexington, one of the latter being a professor of mathematics in Washington and Lee university. Probably the Rockbridge members of the family would know how their name should be pronounced, which also would be the proper pronunciation of Houston, Texas, unless the people thereof decided to adopt a pronunciation of their own. Probably they do not care what you call it, provided you admit Houston is the ideal place in which to hold the Democratic national convention.
The question of proper pronunciation will probably be most seriously considered by the carefully handpicked delegation which the “New Tammany” proposes to send to the great Texan city to astonish not only the Houstonites but the entire South. In fact, it will be a most serious business with the glittering representatives of the “New Tammany,” who are so carefully amending their language so as not to startle the linguistic traditions and susceptibilities of the Southern people, to see that they give to the pronunciation of Houston the correct sound.
The name of Houston appears in some families of South-Irish descent spelled “Huston,” and has been carried in that form for several generations, although the tendency has been finally to spell it “Heuston” in order to make the spelling conform to the sound. The pronunication of “Huston” has been as if spelled “Heuston”.
Sam Houston was a most remarkable man, combining the qualities of a “statesman, solider and adventurer.”
Houston has chosen a great name for itself, whether it knows how exactly to pronounce it or cares.
14 October 1938, Kingsport (TN) Times, pg. 6, col. 8:
Q. Why is Houston, Texas, pronounced hew-ston and Houston Street in New York city house-ton?
A. Because they were named for different persons and the two families pronounced their named differently.
3 April 1942, Burlington (NC) Daily Times-News, “New York Day by Day” by Charles R. Driscoll, pg. 4, col. 7:
NEW YORK—Elsie Houston, singer, told me that Sam Houston, hero of Texas, was her great-grand-uncle.
Miss Houston was indignant, however, because New Yorkers pronounce that name Howston. That’s the way they call Houston street, officially. That’s the way they pronounce the names of all Houstons.
“Some members of the family who have had to live in New York have dropped the o, and spell the name Huston,” she explained, “so that New Yorkers would understand how to pornounce the name.”
8 January 1944, Monessen (PA) Daily Independent, “New York Day by Day” by Charles B. Driscoll, pg. 6, col. 1:
New York—Houston, Minnesota, is pronounced like Houston, Texas, which was named for Sam Houston. The first syllable sounds something like goose, or would rhyme with goose. But in New York we have a very old street, spelled the same way, but pronounced Howston...I have mentioned this difference in pronunciation heretofore, and always the mention has brought a flood of letters from Texas, saying, “But Houston is pronounced Hewston!” Yes, yes, I know. But in New York it is pronounced Howston…
7 October 1953, New York (NY) Times, “$1 Bet Proves Houston Street Is Pronounced ‘House-ton,’” About New York by Meyer Berger, pg. 31:
MEREDITH WOOD, Book of the Month Club president, and Ralph Thompson, one of the club’s editors, got into friendly controversy the other day over pronunciation of Greenwich Village’s Houston Street. Mr. Wood’s Uncle Houston has always called it “Hugh-ston,” as Houston, Tex., is. Mr. Thompson’s family had always called the street “House-ton.”
Quite a fellow for earnest research, Mr. THompson got the New York Historical Society to dig into the question. They found a piece in a 1936 copy of The Half Moon, Holland Society publication, which seemed to clinch things. It said the Village street, deeded to the city in 1808 by the Bleecker family, appeared on early maps as “Houston Street”; that this traced back to the Dutch “Huijs Tuijn,” which means “House Garden.” (There was a time when the thoroughfare was rich in house gardens.)
Anyway, Sam Houston was a lad of only 15 when this city acquired the street called Houstoun, so it couldn’t have been named for him. It wasn’t until twenty-eight years later that he beat Santa Anna at San Jacinto, which led to the city in Texas being named in his honor.
Mr. Thompson won a dollar on the wager. Mr. Wood said it was worth it, to keep the record straight.
26 August 1983, New York (NY) Times, “Houston St.: Downtown Boulevard Revisited” by Ari L. Goldman, pg. C1:
The story is told of a Texas oil millionaire who went to New York’s Houston Street in the hope of finding some good down-home cooking. But instead of barbecued ribs, he found knishes, pasta and quiche.
Except for a few gasoline stations, New York’s Houston bears no resemblance to the Texas city. Even the pronunciation is different, a kind of shibboleth to separate the true New Yorker from the passer-through. In the East, it is HOW-ston; in the Southwest, HUGH-ston.
Comic Book Resources Forum
09-08-2005, 09:41 AM
I’ve lived here all my life and never heard anything other than Yoo-ston.
A tourist, walking down Houston Street in New York, is curious as to how the name of the street is pronounced. So he decides to ask somebody. First, he goes up to a black man, and asks, “How do you pronounce the name of this street?”
“How-ston Street”, replies the black man.
Deciding to get a consensus, the tourist then goes to an Hispanic man, and asks, “How do you pronounce the name of this street?”
“Yoo-ston Street”, replies the Hispanic man.
Figuring that 2 out of 3 will get the right answer, the tourist approaches a Jewish man, and asks, “How do you pronounce the name of this street?”, to which the Jewish man replies,
“Where do you want to go?”
I am a NYC tour guide, amateur etymologist and writer and your site has been invaluable as a source of facts and primary materials - an impeccable work of information science.
Re: Houston Street - I have heard the story that Houstoun, as a patriot of the Revolution and eventual signer of the Declaration of Independence, voluntarily dropped the second “U” from his name, after Noah Webster, in publishing his Americanized English dictionary, sought to excise the superfluous “u” from words like “labour” and “humour.” This was an attempt to standardize an American English in the climate of post-Revolutionary War anti-British sentiment. The idea is that Houstoun dropped the second “u” in his name as an act of patriotism.