In choosing a name for our new Lower Manhattan orchestra, we sought a name that fit three themes: identification with New York City, an historical context and a sense of fun. “Knickerbocker” met all three criteria.
The name "Knickerbocker" first acquired meaning through Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century, best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle.”
In late 1809, while mourning the death of his seventeen-year old fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), an entirely fictional satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics.
In fact, Washington Irving had a real friend named Herman Knickerbocker (1779-1855), whose name he borrowed. Herman Knickerbocker was of the upstate Knickerbocker clan, which descended from a single immigrant ancestor, Harmen Jansen van Wijhe Knickerbocker.
Prior to its publication, the 26-year old Irving started a hoax; he placed a series of missing person advertisements in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel's proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.
Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest; some New York City officials were so concerned about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for his safe return! Riding the wave of public interest he had created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym of his Dutch historian—published A History of New York on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular success. "It took with the public", Irving remarked, "and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America."
By 1831, thanks to Irving’s fictional History, "Knickerbocker" had become a local byword for an imagined Dutch-descended New York aristocracy with old-fashioned ways, long-stemmed pipes, and display of knee-breeches long after the fashion had turned to trousers. Such cultural heritage, of course, sprang almost entirely from Irving's imagination. As the years went by, the surname of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional narrator of this and other Irving works, became a nickname for Manhattan residents in general.
Hence the "New York Knickerbockers,” an amateur social and athletic club organized by Alexander Cartwright on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1842, largely to play "base ball,” the first organized team in baseball history; the Knickerbocker Club (still in a neo-Georgian mansion on Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street, which was founded in 1871 when some members of the Union Club became concerned that admission policies weren’t strict enough), and the professional basketball team, the "New York Knicks", whose corporate name is “The New York Knickerbockers.”
Honoring Lower Manhattan’s origins as New Amsterdam, the 17th-century Dutch trading outpost on the shores of the Hudson River, the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra, following the City of New York, baseball’s New York Mets and basketball’s New York Knicks, has adopted the Dutch national colors of orange and blue.