Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

Instead of the Big Apple, NYC Could Have Been La Grosse Pomme

If the first European explorer to reach New York Harbor had gotten the name "Nouvelle Angoulême" to stick, NYC might be NAC, according to a new documentary.
The skyline of New York. A new film looks at the first European to reach the shores and the French name he gave the city: Angoulême.
The skyline of New York. A new film looks at the first European to reach the shores and the French name he gave the city: Angoulême.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

How would it have been if America’s most populous city had not been called New York, but something completely different? Such is the question explored by a new documentary being screened in the city itself this month.

While many people are aware of NYC’s earlier incarnation as New Amsterdam, few know that New York City’s future site was, in the early 1500s, already given a previous European title by the explorer Giovanni Da Verrazzano—the French name Nouvelle-Angoulême (“New Angoulême”). Screening November 12 in New York’s French Cinema Week, the film If New York Was Called Angoulême featuring historian Florent Gaillard, glances briefly at this tantalizing, largely forgotten connection between France and New York. It invites the viewer to think a bit about how things could have been, if both the French name and the French themselves had just tried to linger a little longer.