Origin of "Fire Island"

A fiery sunset over Fire Island

Fire Island—the genesis of its name sparks our imagination.

There are conflicting views as to the origin of the name Fire Island. The island may have been named after Fire Island Inlet, which appeared on a deed in 1789, and the inlet’s name may have started as a simple spelling error.

The number of inlet islands has varied over time, and it is likely that “five” or the Dutch word “vier,” meaning four, was misspelled on early maps as “fire.”

According to one hypothesis, the name is a corruption of the Five Islands patented by William Nicholls in 1688 in what is now the western end of Fire Island.

Under another hypothesis, the name originates from the fires reportedly set by pirates to lure vessels to shore.

Fire Island Beach appeared on charts in the 1850s, and folklore suggests the name arose from land-based pirates, or “wreckers,” who built beach fires at night to lure cargo ships onto shore.

Some say poison ivy gave Fire Island its name, either for its red leaves in autumn or its fiery itch.

Regardless of whether any of these hypotheses are true, the name Fire Island has long been applied to the western part of Fire Island. The more easterly part of the barrier island was known as Great South Beach until about 1920, when common usage extended the Fire Island name to the rest of the island.

The true origin of Fire Island’s name is obscure.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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