Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Wayne from NY. Wayne Wonders, “How streets got their names? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wayne!
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 familiar streets in the world. You may never have set foot on any of them, but their names are part of modern culture.
So what’s in a name? A lot! In the early days of U.S. urban development, streets were typically named after landmarks, topographic features, or location. Does your town have a Church, Hill, or Capitol Street? Major streets were often given names of power or titled after heroes and leaders. Streets named for former presidents can be found in a lot of towns!
Many cities in the U.S. have streets bearing important local historic names as well as some for people of renown like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is there a street in your area named for a regional famous person?
Most of the U.S. population lived in densely populated cities until the middle of the 20th century. The roads in cities were typically laid out in logical, organized grids. Streets headed all in one direction often carried numbers. In fact the most common street name in the U.S. is Second.
Around 1950, 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 the suburbs.
For the first time, many people were moving into homes with private yards and trees. Suburban community street names were inspired by the growing value people were placing on nature. It became common for suburban communities to name streets after trees and plants. Have you been on Dogwood Terrace or Elm Place?
When it comes to new and modern urban planning, developers are typically responsible for naming streets in the new neighborhoods they build. They often choose street names based on certain traits they want people to associate with the neighborhood. Sometimes, they name new streets after loved ones. If you drive through an area with lots of streets with just first names, that may be why!
Harnessing the suggestive power of words helps shape a neighborhood even before the first home has been built. What do you picture when you hear someone lives on Whispering Pines Drive? Or what about Bearcamp Road? An entire neighborhood in Nevada has streets named for Pokémon characters!
Roadways might change names in their history. Cities can honor someone by renaming a street after them. Some places choose modern heroes to replace a figure who may be a painful reminder of the past.
Even though developers have a say in naming streets, public service agencies get to vote, too. They are concerned that street names be clear and not easily confused with other existing names. This makes it safer for firefighters and police to find people in emergencies.
If you could design your own neighborhood, what street names would you choose? What do you think people in the future will think about living on one of your streets?
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.8, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.1 , CCRA.W.3, NCAS.CR.1