Editor’s note: This article is part of a series in which Newsday attempts to answer questions from Long Islanders about life on the Island. If there’s a question you want us to answer, send it to us here.
Why do they call it the Hamptons?
The short answer: We don't know exactly when or why people started referring to all the South Fork towns and hamlets by one name, but one thing we do know: people who live there don't call it the Hamptons.
The long answer: Go out to a hamlet in the Hamptons, and year-round residents will not tell you they are from the Hamptons. They are from the Village of Sag Harbor, the hamlet of East Quogue, or maybe the hamlets of Bridgehampton, Amagansett or Springs.
“Bridgehampton has its own history, East Hampton has its own history, Sag Harbor has its own history,” Hugh King, the East Hampton town crier and historic site director at Home Sweet Home Museum, said. “We are all different because our histories are different. Why not call it the Hamptons? We are not all the same.”
Southampton and East Hampton were farming, fishing and whaling communities from the time they were founded in 1640 and 1648, respectively, until the late 1800s. The towns were settled by the British, who named the former after England’s city of Southampton. The names of the neighboring towns and villages centered around that.
Everything changed with the Long Island Rail Road, which reached Bridgehampton in 1870 and Sag Harbor in 1872. It's not clear who first coined "The Hamptons" to describe each "hampton"-ending town. But as they became summer destinations, the tendency to group them together seems to have been born.
In 1879, all the villages and hamlets within the towns of Southampton and East Hampton were considered one destination — the “Hamptons” — in William Mackay Laffan’s “The New Long Island: A Handbook of Summer Travel.”
A few years later, The New York Times followed suit, calling the area “the Hamptons” in an 1882 article noting “the beauty of the country and scenery.”
Attracted by the idea of paradise, popular culture has helped solidify the South Fork’s misidentification as one place. In shows like “Seinfeld” and “Sex and the City,” characters flocked to “the Hamptons,” with no distinction between East and South.
However, it is possible that the tide is changing. In HBO’s “Girls,” a main character spends a weekend in Montauk. Showtime’s “The Affair” used Montauk as a specific location as well. And “Royal Pains,” a show about a doctor-for-hire in “the Hamptons,” makes specific references to the area’s hamlets and villages throughout its eight seasons.
“The towns are referenced individually, and quite often,” said “Royal Pains” creator and executive producer Andrew Lenchewski. “For example, the main characters, Hank and Evan, live in the guesthouse of an estate in Sagaponack. That locale is meant to convey their especially blessed circumstances.”
In the pilot, Lenchewski explained, a girl from the city refers to Westhampton as “Worsthampton.”
“It’s a very specific world,” said Lenchewski, who also penned the pilot for drama “The Tap.” “That specificity is useful for both dramatic and comedic purposes.”
Year-round residents couldn’t agree more: It’s a specific world.