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?