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.

 

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!