When you hear Broadway, Abbey Road and Bourbon Street, what comes to mind? Bright lights? The Beatles? Mardi Gras? They are some of the most recognizable streets in the world, and though you may never have set foot on any of them, their names are a familiar part of modern culture.

So what’s in a name? A lot. Fasten your seat belt and get ready to take a drive through the history of urban development as we investigate how streets get their names.

In the early days of urban development in the United States, streets were typically named after landmarks (Canal or Market), topographic features (Hill or Water) or location (East or Upper). Major streets were often given names of power (State or King) or after heroes and leaders (Washington or Jefferson.)

Until the mid-1800s, the majority of the population lived in densely populated cities. The roads in urbanized cities were typically laid out in logical, organized grids.

Around 1850, however, people began moving out of cities to build homes in the countryside where they could have more land and less urban congestion. This movement was the birth of what we now call suburbia.

For the first time, many people were moving into homes with private yards and trees. Inspired by the growing suburban trend and increased value people were placing on nature, it became common for suburban communities to name streets after trees and plants (Elm or Vine or Magnolia.)

When it comes to new and modern urban development, developers are typically responsible for naming streets in the new neighborhoods they build. Developers often choose street names based on certain desired traits they want people to associate with the neighborhood. From Whispering Pine to Buckingham Lane, harnessing the suggestive power of words helps shape a neighborhood even before the first home has been built.

 

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  1. Another great neighborhood in northern Indiana is Enchanted Hills, with street names like:
    Wizard of Oz Way,
    Sleepy Hollow Pkwy,
    Street of Dreams, &
    Sleeping Beauty Ln.

    We also had a lot of county number roads and EMS lanes where I grew up.

    Thanks again for the awesome lesson!

  2. Street names can keep you wondering. In my city, we have street names like Blue Horse Lane (are there really blue horses) and Billy Goat Strut (Do you think Billy goats lived there).

  3. The roads in old European cities that were established in the Middle Ages, and even before then, are an absolute nightmare of winding lanes and angular routes! There’s nothing grid-like or logical about them. Many of the first roads or streets were laid where animals tracked, or items were hauled via the easiest route around obstructions. As a result, the old cities have no logical layout of roads, and even the main routes into cities were winding routes.

    Also, many of the roads in the old cities were made winding and narrow on purpose, to defeat and confuse enemies who were attacking the cities! Oftentimes, these routes were only narrow and winding laneways, designed to be just wide enough for a horse and small cart. In this design, enemy forces were forced back to a front of just several men, who could be easily attacked – as compared to a mass of soldiers or warriors who came at the invasion target in a massed front.

    • Thanks so much for these great facts about the road designs of older European cities, Ron! We appreciate your knowledge on the subject, and want to say that we could have been a bit more clear in stating that this Wonder was based on American street naming and development. Your comment has inspired us to think about road design and city planning as the topic for a future Wonder of the Day!

  4. Actually, my father was a Civil Engineer and a lot of our family members were named on many of the streets that he helped to develop. Many times he would ask us if we had a favorite name that we would like him to use.

  5. This is a wonderful site. It is exactly what I was looking for. I am a second grade teacher and wanted to find a new way to teach geography, mapping, cardinal directions, etc. This is a great start! Thanks so much.

    • We are so happy to hear from you, Artis! Thank you for letting us know you are thinking of ways to engage your students using Wonderopolis! There are LOTS of awesome Wonder Educators who share best practices for inspiring WONDER on Twitter (@wonderopolis) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wonderopolis). We encourage you to join in the conversation!

      We also encourage you to follow our AMAZING Wonder Leads for Wonder Year Adventure 2012: @EdwardsWONDER @WonderLeadSarah @WonderLeadMaria @WonderFamNixon @WonderPhillips @WonderLeadJon! Links to their blogs are listed on their Twitter pages, and they share a LOT of useful knowledge, including how they inspire their own students and children to WONDER with Wonderopolis! :-)

  6. Thanks for the information. I tried to show the Wonder #2 video clip today at school and was unsuccessful because my district blocks YouTube. Does anyone know another way I can access this cute video? (“How Streets Get Their Names”) I also tried to download it on another device and could not do that either. I really want my second graders to watch it. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi, Artis! We’re super sorry that you’re having trouble accessing the video for Wonder of the Day® #2. We know it can be frustrating when the blocks that some schools and districts put in place inadvertently deflect content that was not meant to harm. Because we search for and imbed the best user-generated videos from across the internet to accompany each Wonder, we sometimes hear from educators like yourself who can’t access the videos that actually “live” on certain channels like YouTube. Although we don’t have a solution at the moment, we are currently looking at ways we can work within the parameters of the school/district blocks to make sure ALL Wonder Friends have access to ALL content on Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Great Wonder, Amanda! We’re glad you’re thinking of your very own Wonders– way to use your imagination! Keep up the great work! :)

  7. Check out these Beatles street names in Raleigh, NC! They took Penny Lane to another level – Long and Winding Rd and Sgt Pepper Ct. :)

    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=sgt+pepper+ct+raleigh+nc+27603&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89acf522ba3c13d1:0xfc458ab5f9c4c7bc,Sgt+Pepper+Ct,+Raleigh,+NC+27603&gl=us&ei=QRlWUb6BLJDA9gTNxICABw&ved=0CDEQ8gEwAA

    Also, my grandparent’s lived in Santa Claus, IN that @Duane had mentioned above. Their house was on New Year’s Eve Drive – their whole neighborhood was named after holidays. FYI – Santa Claus even has their own theme park…Holiday World!

    • Hey Laura, thank you for sharing your awesome comment and connection to this Wonder! It’s so cool that Raleigh and Santa Claus, IN have unique street names! We think it’s pretty creative!

      We hope you have a SUPER day, Laura! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How streets are named
  • How the naming of streets influences neighborhoods
  • How to create their own fictitious neighborhood with streets and their names

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Welcome to Storybook Grove, a new neighborhood in the City of Libraria. Allow us to give you a brief tour. To your left, you will see Cinderella Court.

Life on Cinderella Court is quite busy at any moment of the day. The residents are constantly scrubbing their floors and cleaning their homes. Single shoes mysteriously disappear. A local gardener grew a prize-winning pumpkin last year — nearly the size of a horse-drawn carriage!

Once in a while, the neighbors get together for a block party, but one thing is for sure: By the time the clock strikes midnight, you won’t find anyone out on the streets, they’ll all be home tucked in bed.

The City of Libraria is growing quickly. We need your help. You have just been given a plot of land on which you will build a new development. What will you name your neighborhood? What will you name your streets? Describe what life would be like on your street. You can even draw a picture or map!

There are no rules in Libraria. Want to build a dog-themed neighborhood? Welcome residents to their new homes on Pug Place and Weimaraner Way. Hungry? Who says you can’t live on Taco Trail or Spaghetti Street? Let your imagination flow!

Families will learn:

  • How streets are named
  • How the naming of streets influences neighborhoods
  • How to create their own fictitious neighborhood with streets and their names

 

Wonder What’s Next?

It’s the end of the road for our street name adventure, but tomorrow we’ll say welcome to the jungle! Grab a vine and swing on over for a field trip — Wonderopolis-style!

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