There is an authenticity crisis in place-naming and street-naming today. It stems in part from the inherent conflict of suburban development, where for more than seventy years, developers have been enticing people out of the city to the dream of a wide-open green countryside. And so they pick names like Fox Run, Quail Ridge, Meadow Green, etc. But the reality is that Fox Run is the place where foxes will never run again, and the green meadow has long been lost to asphalt and tract housing.
Another culprit is focus group naming, which is usually calibrated to create super-sweet place names that sound like nothing so much as marketing fluff. Today, places fighting for the sweetest names sound fake. Here are some ideas for place names and street names that I hope you find helpful:
The best choice for a place (neighborhood or town) name is some characteristic of the place that will remain once the place is developed. Seaside is a classic general place name, because that’s where the town is built: by the sea side. Mahogany Bay Village (pictured above) is a more specific name for a village built on a bay using a lot of local mahogany wood. If you want the name to sound timeless, choose something that isn’t so sweet. You’re unlikely to be courageous enough to name a place something like Foggy Bottom or Rocky Ridge, but our ancestors had no problem naming places for real characteristics they embodied.
Here are several categories of street names that have been used through the years. I went through a number of cities and towns and catalogued all of the street names in their historic districts and then sorted them into the following types. These categories seem timeless because they have been used for so long and therefore don't sound like "contemporary marketing fluff."
Numbers are possibly the most common method ever used. This works best in areas that are fairly well-gridded.
This is a similar principle, but much less common. Washington DC is probably the most notable example.
“Founding fathers” are more common than later presidents. Most recent presidents would not be a good choice because you would alienate the half of the market who did not vote for them.
Grant (popular in the North, very uncommon in the South due to Civil War history)
Hoover (very uncommon everywhere because of Depression history; very few after this date have been used)
The most populous and oldest states are most common; some derivatives drop North or South.
These should be features that occur at least somewhere if not entirely along the thoroughfare.
Destinations On/Of Thoroughfare
Description of Thoroughfare Itself
Major Specific Destination on Thoroughfare
Ursulines (convent in French Quarter), etc.
This is possibly the most enduring name type, and has continued through the postwar era to today. Some cities use them in alphabetical order, which helps with orientation, like using street numbers or letters.
If you’re naming alphabetically, there aren’t any good names that begin with I, which is why cities often skip to J.
K has the same problem as I, and is often skipped as well.
Q is skipped as well.
Most places don’t name more than 20 streets for trees, so U, V, X, Y, and Z which have few good tree species aren’t usually needed. There are, however, a couple good W trees that are often used as street names:
Compound Tree Names
These are dangerous because they can sound contrived, unless they actually describe a preserved feature.
These should occur on thoroughfares that connect to towns in the middle distance of 5 to 50 miles or so.
Regional Favorite Towns or Places
People, Cities or Places in Another Country Invoked by Neighborhood
These examples are all from New Orleans' French Quarter:
Dauphin(e) (used here and many other places)
These examples are from Columbus, Ohio's German Village:
These examples are from St. George's Bermuda:
Duke of Clarence
Duke of Kent
Duke of York
Forrest (South only)
Grant (more common in North)
Lee (more common in South)
Sherman (North only)
Planners & Related Professionals
Unlike most thorougfare names, New Urbanist Town Founders often use names of living professionals, often to the chagrin of those professionals. Andrés Duany is well-known for discouraging Duany Street, for example.
National Political Leaders
Presidents are not the only leaders whose names are used for thoroughfares. The following are some of the more common names:
Founding Leaders (Regional or Local)
These names are rarely used in the US, but are common throughout the British Commonwealth.
Merchants, Craftsmen or Other Inhabitants
The trade name is often followed by a unique thoroughfare description.
Old Maids' Lane
Ivy League university names are by far the most common.
And here are some really quirky ones from Prospect New Town in Longmont, Colorado. Some of these could only have been named in our time, but are consistent with the character of earlier names. Thanks to Nathan Norris for suggesting adding these to this post.
100 Year Party
These are recurring names in multiple cities for which I have not discovered their origin. It’s possible they may have been named for different locally- or regionally-significant people who had the same last name.
George (Washington? King?)
I hope you find this list useful. If you think of other types, please leave