NAME THAT PLACE
Just imagine if you’d been asked to give names (other than numbers) to all the streets in America. Of course, nothing like that ever took place because the nation expanded gradually, street names added as we went along. But what a monumental undertaking it would have been. It’s of interest to consider the available name pool, what local officials drew upon when assigning names. We are, after all, talking about millions of locations.
You’d expect to find, and you would, authorities selecting the names of people of some local repute. So if you happened upon street signs inscribed to O’Sullivan, Osgood, Bentley, Carpenter, Driscoll, Turley, etc., you’d be safe to assume those folks were, at some point, well-known community figures.
After that it gets more predictable. “Main” probably takes the prize for the most common of street names. It’s a fair guess that “Broadway” is not far behind. Then it becomes a matter of identifying suitable categories and harvesting their yield. American presidents are a good place to begin. Start with our first and work your way through to the mid-20th Century. It’s a safe bet that every chief executive (along with many of the Founding Fathers) have spread across the land; even our least lustrous leaders (viz, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, Harding and Coolidge).
Trees are deemed most suitable because they provide reassurance that rural roots have not been entirely forsaken. And so we encounter Oak, Hickory, Maple, Cherry, Cypress, Elm, Pine and Willow Streets again and again. Probably for similar reasons, flowers are called upon to serve – Rose, Carnation, Cherry Blossom, Lilac, Violet, Daisy, Orchid, etc.
For a touch of class, there’s always the Ivy League (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc.) or a roll call of English names (Brompton, Essex, Sedgewick, Hampshire, Warwick, Buckingham, etc.). State names (California, Maine, Arizona, Dakota, Virginia, etc.) enjoy almost universal popularity as do local topographical features (Glen, Meadow, Forest, Lake, River, Valley, Hilltop, Ridge, Summit, etc.). Often the street names of new subdivisions become a family affair when builders or developers designate next of kin. That often explains locations such as Monica, Henry, Judy, Karen, Leslie, Jeffrey, and Rebecca.
Then there is the related and often baffling issue of roadway designations. Distinctions here tend to be arbitrary and mysteriously inconsistent. Now a “circle” should conform to its name, but is there any recognizable difference between a “road” and a “street” or a “drive”? An “avenue” one assumes should be comparatively broader and larger, but that’s not always so. A “lane” or a “way” or a “path” one imagines can easily be substituted one for another. And where does that leave “place”?
As long as residential and commercial areas expand and new subdivisions emerge we will require additional names. But not to worry. Americans have no difficulty repeating themselves here, often assigning familiar and comforting identities, instantly recognizable, to places just making their debut on local maps.