Street Names: Getting You Where You Live

Would you ever want to live at an address that sounds less than picturesque? Or that sounds scary, shady, tawdry or downright ugly?

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

I ask this because I recently finished a story for our local paper on the history of street names in our town. It got me thinking about how the millions of streets in our country are named. Who thought up names like “Hard Scrabble Road” in New York and “Mosquito Landing Road” in southern New Jersey? Do you shudder at the thought of living at such an address? (That last one makes me itch.)

My thoughts took me to the web, where I found a very funny blog post at the Zillow web site. I learned that Casco, Maine has a Durt Road and Clark Ford, Idaho has a Crummy Road. Norwich, CT, has a Butt Road and, according to theawl.com, Las Vegas pays homage to a late rapper via Tupac Lane.

While my childhood years were spent on the quiet-sounding Church Street (named for the church on it, a common practice in old towns), my street addresses as an adult ranged from picturesque to Dickensian. My most downtrodden place – a threadbare apartment with trapezoid-shaped walls — was actually at one of my prettiest address names: West Willow Grove Avenue, in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Later I “moved up” to a nicer apartment at a not-so-nice-sounding address: Iven Avenue. Terrible!

As I newlywed I lived on Bittersweet Court, a nice Marlton, New Jersey townhouse neighborhood that sounds more downtrodden than it was; and Old Cedar Grove Road (my prettiest-sounding address). We built that house and picked the lot partly because of the address…even though the choicer lots were on a street called Dolores Drive. No offense to anyone named Dolores – it was probably the wife or daughter of an earlier developer — but I didn’t want my address to sound so dolorous.

Sometimes I wonder what motivates developers – who typically bestow the names – to choose the names they do. Inspired by a song, a newborn or a mistress, they immortalize their beloved’s name on a street sign, sell the properties, then stick the homebuyers with an address like Dolores Drive or Hardscrabble Road in perpetuity.

Here are some other interesting facts about street names:

  • In Colonial times and afterwards, as U.S. communities were built, it was common to name streets after the types of trees that grew along them, their importance to the town, or their residents or buildings. Usually the word “street” was not capitalized.
  • Some of the oldest streets in our town are named Cedar, Grove, Maple, Elm and Ash. Others are named Church (where the Catholic Church is located); and Granite, where a quarry was once located.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common names include Second, Third, First, Park, Main, Oak, Maple, Cedar, Elm and Hill. “Second” streets are more numerous than “Main” streets, because the main street is often called something other than Main Street.
  • Inspiration for a neighborhood’s street names can come from anywhere. One neighborhood in our town, whose developer was a former high school teacher, had streets named after Whitman and Emerson. Others, named after the developers’ relatives, include Teresa, Nicholas, Alexander, Angelo, Elizabeth, John Matthew, Gina, David Joseph, Barbara, Tiffany and Ursla. A street called Queen Ann Drive is named after one developer’s daughter; another street, Carol Ann Drive, is named after his wife. Another developer named his high-end townhouse neighborhood after Highcroft, a private school that his son attended.

What about you? Which of your addresses have sounded the most picturesque? Did any make you cringe? Any interesting street names in your town?

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15 thoughts on “Street Names: Getting You Where You Live

  1. I grew up in Pittsburgh. The first time he visited, my husband wondered out loud if all the street names there were based on character traits–this based on the intersection my old high school is on–corner of Shady and Forward.

  2. Great post title! I love the name of the street I grew up on: Upper Mountain: with its lovely views down to Lower Mountain and across to Toronto from the Niagara Region. There really weren’t mountains but rather escarpments. I can only surmise that that term was too long or unknown among lay people during the early 1700s to be used for place naming purposes. The house where I raise my children is on 1st Street which sounds very stately. The only problem is the city developer named all the streets around us as 1st Place, 1st Way, 1st Avenue. It takes a literate and awake postal worker to get the mail where it’s really going… especially when my girlfriend just moved down a street!

  3. What an odd yet entertaining story. I never really thought about my addresses before (with the exception of one road that i use to drive by). Currently, I live on Forestdale, which is by far the nicest sounding. Growing up I lived on Bricklanding rd, which I can only assume was named for the local golf course. Project rd seems to be the most disturbing name even though it was out in the country and far from any “projects”. But, “John’s Dirt” road always caught my eye. Really? That’s the best they could come up with? Anyways, thanks for a great read!

    • Project Road? It sounds so unfinished. Where I grew up they built a highway, Route 476, to connect the Pennsylvania turnpike with the Philadekphia airport. There were three color-coded possible routes when they were planning this road. 476 has been known as “The Blue Route” ever since.

      • IT’s funny you should mention that it sounds unfinished… because it isn’t! There’s about a half mile stretch that is dirt while the rest is paved. lol.

  4. As you know, we have a mountain home in Park City, Utah. Think logs and chink and stone surrounded by pine trees. The street names adjacent to us are Blue Sage Trail, Rock Ridge Drive and Ranch Cabin Lane. Our street is Alice Court. This sounds as if we live in a stately brick row house in Manhattan. The developer must have wanted to impress his mother. It’s embarrassing to give out our address. A sissy name in a “rough” neighborhood.

  5. Does Street names not signify an intrinsic need to feel important and discussed? Even when we decide on the name based on a personality or event, It still shows our own attachments, does it not?

    Shakti

  6. In Reston, Virginia is a street named Temporary Road. It appears to be permanent.

    The District of Columbia has a Half Street. I don’t know what the other half is.

  7. Congratulations for being so honest. We’ve all had similar things in our lives; let’s consider them learning points and be different next time.

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