A street name or odonym is an identifying name given to a street. The street name usually forms part of the address (though addresses in some parts of the world, notably most of Japan, make no reference to street names). Buildings are often given numbers along the street to further help identify them.
Names are often given in a two-part form: an individual name known as the specific, and an indicator of the type of street, known as the generic. Examples include "Main Road", "Fleet Street" and "Park Avenue". The type of street stated, however, can sometimes be misleading: a street named "Park Avenue" need not have the characteristics of an avenue in the generic sense. Some streets are given a name without a street type designation. The Mall, for example, is the name of various famous streets around the world.
A street name can also include a direction (the cardinal points east, west, north, south, or the quadrants NW, NE, SW, SE) especially in cities with a grid-numbering system. Examples include "E Roosevelt Boulevard" and "14th Street NW". These directions are often (though not always) used to differentiate two sections of a street. Other qualifiers may be used for that purpose as well. Examples: upper/lower, old/new, or adding "extension".
"Main Street" and "High Street" are common names for the major road in the middle of a shopping area in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. The most common street name in the US is "2nd" or "Second".
In the United States, most streets are named after numbers, landscapes, trees (a combination of landscapes and trees such as "Oakhill" is used often in residential areas), or the surname of an important individual (in some instances, it is just a commonly held surname such as Smith).
"The Shambles", derived from the Anglo-Saxon term "fleshammels" ("the street of the butchers"), is a historical street name which still exists in various cities and towns around England. The most well-known example is to be found in York
Many streets were named for the type of commerce or industry that was along them. This practice rarely happens in modern times, but many of those named years ago are still common. Examples include London's Haymarket or Barcelona's Carrer de Moles, "Millstone Street", where the stonecutters used to have their shops.
Barcelona's La Rambla is officially a series of streets. The Rambla de Canaletes is named after a fountain that still stands, but the Rambla dels Estudis is named after the Estudis Generals, a university building demolished in 1843, and the Rambla de Sant Josep, the Rambla dels Caputxins, and the Rambla de Santa Monica are each named after former convents. Only the convent of Santa Monica survives as a building, and it is now converted to a museum.
Sometimes a street is named after a landmark that was torn down to build that very street. For example, New York's Canal Street takes its name from a canal that was filled in to build it.
When the roads do still make it to their stated destination, the names are often changed when they get closer to the destination. (Hartford Avenue in Wethersfield, Connecticut, becomes Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut, for example.) A road can switch names multiple times as local opinion changes regarding its destination; for example, the road between Oxford and Banbury changes name five times from the Banbury Road to the Oxford Road and back again as it passes through villages.
Some streets are named after the areas that the street connects. For example, Clarcona Ocoee Road links the communities of Clarcona and Ocoee in Orlando, Florida, and Jindivick–Neerim South Road links the towns of Jindivick and Neerim South in Victoria, Australia.
Some streets are named after famous or distinguished individuals, sometimes people directly associated with the street, usually after their deaths. Bucharest's Şoseaua Kiseleff was named after the Russian reformer Pavel Kiselyov who had the road built while Russian troops were occupying the city in the 1830s; its Strada Dr. Iuliu Barasch is named after a locally famous physician whose clinic was located there.
Naming a street after oneself as a bid for immortality has a long pedigree; Jermyn Street in London was named by Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who developed the St. James's area for Charles II of England. Perhaps to dissuade such posterity-seeking, many jurisdictions only allow naming for persons after their death, occasionally with a waiting period of ten years or more. A dozen streets in San Francisco, California's North Beach neighborhood were renamed in 1988 after local writers; in 1994, the city broke with tradition, honoring Lawrence Ferlinghetti by renaming an alley after him within his own lifetime.
Naming a street for a person is very common in many countries, often in the honoree's birthplace. However, it is also the most controversial type of naming, especially in cases of renaming. It is often the main reason for renaming:
Conversely, it can be a way to eliminate a name that proves too controversial; for example, Hamburg Avenue in Brooklyn, New York became Wilson Avenue after the United States entered World War I against Germany (see below).
Other examples of themed streets:
In many cities laid out on a grid plan, the streets are named to indicate their location on a Cartesian coordinate plane. For example, the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 for Manhattan provided for numbered streets running parallel to the minor axis of the island and numbered and lettered avenues running parallel to the long axis of the island, although many of the avenues have since been assigned names for at least part of their courses. In the city plan for Washington, D.C., north-south streets were numbered away from the United States Capitol in both directions, while east-west streets were lettered away from the Capitol in both directions and diagonal streets were named after various States of the Union. As the city grew, east-west streets past W Street were given two-syllable names in alphabetical order, then three-syllable names in alphabetical order, and finally names relating to flowers and shrubs in alphabetical order. Even in communities not laid out on a grid, such as Arlington County, Virginia, a grid-based naming system is still sometimes used to give a semblance of order.
Often, the numbered streets run east-west and the numbered avenues north-south, following the style adopted in Manhattan, although this is not always observed. In some cases, streets in "half-blocks" in between two consecutive numbered streets have a different designator, such as Court or Terrace, often in an organized system where courts are always between streets and terraces between avenues. Sometimes yet another designator (such as "Way", "Place", or "Circle") is used for streets which go at a diagonal or curve around, and hence do not fit easily in the grid.
In many cases, the block numbers correspond to the numbered cross streets; for instance, an address of 1600 may be near 16th Street or 16th Avenue. In a city with both lettered and numbered streets, such as Washington, D.C., the 400 block may be between 4th and 5th streets or between D and E streets, depending on the direction in which the street in question runs. However, addresses in Manhattan have no obvious relationship to cross streets or avenues, although various tables and formulas are often found on maps and travel guides to assist in finding addresses.
Examples of grid systems:
Street names can usually be changed relatively easily by municipal authorities for various reasons. Sometimes streets are renamed to reflect a changing or previously unrecognized ethnic community or to honour politicians or local heroes.
A changed political regime can trigger widespread changes in street names – many place names in Zimbabwe changed following their independence in 1980 with streets named after British colonists being changed to those of Zimbabwean nationalist leaders.
Some international causes célèbres can attract cities around the world to rename streets in solidarity; for example a number of streets with South African embassies were renamed honouring Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment.
Street names can also be changed to avoid negative associations, like Malbone Street in Brooklyn, New York City, renamed Empire Boulevard after the deadly Malbone Street Wreck; Cadieux Street in Montreal renamed De Bullion because the original name became infamous by the former presence of many bordellos; and several streets in the German Village area of Columbus, Ohio which were renamed with more "American" sounding names around World War I due to popular anti-German sentiments. Similarly, Hamburg Avenue in Brooklyn was renamed Wilson Avenue during World War I.
Street names also can change due to a change in official language. After the death of Francisco Franco, the Spanish transition to democracy gave Catalonia the status of an autonomous community, with Catalan as a co-official language. While some street names in Catalonia were changed entirely, most were merely given the Catalan translations of their previous Castilian names; for example, Calle San Pablo (Saint Paul Street) in Barcelona became Carrer Sant Pau. In some cases, this was a reversion to Catalan names from decades earlier.
In a similar way, English street names were changed to French in Quebec during the 1970s, after French was declared the sole language for outdoor signage. This was met with hurt and anger by many of the province's Anglophones, who wished to retain their traditional placenames. The government body responsible for overseeing the enacting of the Charter of the French Language continues to press English-majority communities to further francize their street names (for example, what was once "Lakeshore Road" was changed to "Chemin Lakeshore" in the 1970s, with the Office québécois de la langue française pressuring a further change to "Chemin du Bord-du-Lac".
Sometimes, when communities are consolidated, the streets are renamed according to a uniform system. For example, when the community of Georgetown ceased to have even a nominal existence independent of Washington, D.C., the streets in Georgetown were renamed as an extension of Washington's street-naming convention. Also, when leaders of Arlington County, Virginia, asked the United States Postal Service to place the entire county in the "Arlington, Virginia" postal area, the USPS refused to do so until the county adopted a uniform addressing and street-naming system, which the county did in 1932.
In the borough of Queens, New York, a huge street renaming campaign began in the early 20th century, changing almost all of the street names into numbers, in accordance with the adoption of a new unified house numbering scheme. A confusing aspect of this massive transformation was that some of the local subway stations retained their names, instead of them being changed with their corresponding street(s). Often these names either remained intact years later, with rare examples surviving even today. A curious example is that of 23rd Street - Ely Avenue Station; Ely Avenue was renamed 23rd Street long before the subway station was even constructed.
Sometimes street renaming can be controversial, because of antipathy toward the new name, the overturning of a respected traditional name, or confusion from the altering of a familiar name useful in navigation. A proposal in 2005 to rename 16th Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C., "Ronald Reagan Boulevard" exemplified all three. Issues of familiarity and confusion can be addressed by the street sign showing the current name and, in smaller writing, the old name. One compromise when the issue is more political can be "co-naming", when the old name is fully retained but the street is also given a second subsidiary name, which may be indicated by a smaller sign underneath the 'main' name. (See section below on "Multiple names for a single street".)
It is also controversial because it is seen by many as a way to rewrite history, even if the original name is not well-liked but nevertheless traditional or convenient. It can be used to erase the presence of a cultural group or previous political regime, whether positive or negative, and to show the supremacy of a new cultural group or political regime. A prime example of this type of name change was the renaming of Montreal's Dorchester Boulevard, the nexus of the financial and business district, named for governor Lord Dorchester, to René Lévesque Boulevard, after a leader of the Parti Québécois, a separatist party which was responsible for diminishing the rights of anglophones throughout the province (including mandating French-only street names). City officials rushed to the name change, without even waiting the required one-year mourning period after Lévesque's death. Many Anglophones and federalists were outspoken in their opposition to the name change, and the majority English-speaking city of Westmount retained Dorchester as the name of their portion of the street in protest.
While it is very common for what is effectively a single street to have different names for different portions of the street, it is less common for a portion of a street to have two equally acceptable legal names. There are several cases of the latter in New York City: Sixth Avenue in Manhattan was renamed as Avenue of the Americas in 1945, but the name never really stuck, and the city now considers both names equally acceptable, and both appear on street signs. Manhattan street signs now also designate a portion of Seventh Avenue as Fashion Avenue, and Avenue C is also Loisaida Avenue, a Spanglish name deriving from the English Lower East Side. One street in the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx changes its name repeatedly due to the presence of the Bronx - Mount Vernon border, from South 11th Avenue in Mount Vernon, eventually becoming Seton Avenue in the Bronx, with one particular section in between having different names on each side of the street because of the presence of the city line in the centre line of the street: Seton Avenue on the west (Bronx) side of the street, and Mundy Lane on the east (Mount Vernon) side of the street. As a result of this confusing nomenclature created by the difference in jurisdiction, many city maps display both names without giving further visual clarification regarding the name difference, while some other maps give no specific name whatsoever to that portion of the street, instead opting to label the street South 11th Avenue for the portion of the street entirely in Mount Vernon, and Seton Avenue in the Bronx, negelecting to mention Mundy Lane in between.
Cairo's Muizz Li-Din Allah Street changes its name as one walks through. It may variously be referred to by locals as Souq Al-Nahhasin ("Coppersmith Bazaar") or Souq Al-Attarin ("Spices Bazaar") or Souq Al-Sagha ("Goldsmith and Jeweler Bazaar"), according to historical uses, as in "Type of commerce or industry" above. (For a tourist, that might be misleading. These Cairene names identify both a "segment" within the Street, and "sub-Areas" in the City.)
Some major roads may have two names of different types, such as the Hume Highway/Sydney Road in outer northern Melbourne, which is exclusively Sydney Road closer to the city and exclusively the Hume Highway outside Melbourne, or the Hoddle Highway which is better known as Hoddle Street north of Bridge Road and Punt Road south of it.
Boundary Road/Station Road in Hove and Portslade, East Sussex, has different names for each side of the street. Originally known as "Station Road", named for Portslade railway station, in 1903 Hove opted to rename its side as "Boundary Road", to avoid confusion with "Station Approach", leading to Hove railway station. Portslade's parish council objected to this, and continued to refer to their side by the old name.
In many cases, more than one street in a locality will have the same name: for example, Bordesley Green and Bordesley Green Road, both in the Bordesley Green section of Birmingham, England, and the three separate Abbey Roads in London. The city of Boston has three Washington Streets. Atlanta famously has many streets that share name Peachtree: Peachtree Street, -Drive, -Plaza, -Circle, -Way, -Walk, West Peachtree Street, and many other variations that include "Peachtree" in the name. Occasionally, these streets actually intersect each other, as with Pike Place and Pike Street and Ravenna Boulevard and Ravenna Avenue in Seattle, Washington. In many cities in Alberta, new developments have only a few common street names, which are followed by variant types such as Boulevard, Drive, Crescent and Place. The western suburbs of Philadelphia near Conshohocken contain a number of roads named Gulph, including Gulph Road, Upper Gulph Road, New Gulph Road, Old Gulph Road, Gulph Creek Road, Gulph Lane, Gulph Hills Road, North Gulph Road, and South Gulph Road. In some cases, these roads intersect each other multiple times, creating confusion for those unfamiliar with the local geography.
Such an occurrence of street names coinciding came in the episode "The Maid" on Seinfeld, when a lost Kramer, calling Jerry for assistance, discovers he is at the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street in New York. He remarks, "1st and 1st. The Nexus of the Universe."
Seattle's University Way NE is almost universally known to locals as "The Ave". Buffalo, New York's Delaware Avenue acquired the nickname of "Presidents Avenue", being where Millard Fillmore lived, William McKinley died, and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president. The best-known segment of North Las Vegas Boulevard is called the Las Vegas Strip, or just "The Strip".
It is also common in some places to shorten the name of streets which have long names. For example, many streets named for Massachusetts are often referred to as "Mass Ave"; Boston's Commonwealth Avenue is often called "Comm Ave"; Manhattan's Lexington Avenue is often simply called "Lex" and Madison Avenue, "Mad"; Charlottesville, VA's Jefferson Park Avenue is simply "JPA". In Chicago, Illinois, Lake Shore Drive is commonly abbreviated to "LSD". In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Boulevard of the Allies is usually known as just "Blvd. of the Allies". In Portland, Oregon, Martin Luther King, Junior Boulevard is abbreviated to "MLK Jr. Blvd." (although in Chicago, Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive is always called "King Drive"). Tualatin Valley Highway west of Portland, Oregon is often spoken of and written as "TV Highway". In Toronto, Ontario the Don Valley Parkway is commonly referred to as the "DVP" (and sometimes the Don Valley Parking Lot due to high congestion).
In Paris, Boulevard Saint-Michel is affectionately known as "Boul'Mich". North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, the city's most famous shopping street, is also occasionally referred to by that name, but is more commonly called the Magnificent Mile.
Much as streets are often named after the neighborhoods they run through, the reverse process also takes place, with a neighborhood taking its name from a street or an intersection: for example, the aforementioned Wall Street in Manhattan, Knightsbridge in London, or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.
In the United Kingdom many towns will refer to their main thoroughfare as the High Street, and many of the ways leading off it will be named "Road" despite the urban setting. Thus the town's so-called "Roads" will actually be more streetlike than a road.
In some other English-speaking countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, cities are often divided by a main "Road", with "Streets" leading from this "Road", or are divided by thoroughfares known as "Streets" or "Roads" with no apparent differentiation between the two. In Auckland, for example, the main shopping precinct is around Queen Street and Karangahape Road, and the main urban thoroughfare connecting the south of the city to the city centre is Dominion Road.
In Manhattan and Seattle, east-west streets are "Streets" whereas North-South streets are "Avenues". Yet in St. Petersburg, Florida and Memphis, Tennessee, all of the east-west streets are "Avenues" and the North-South streets are "Streets" (Memphis has one exception--the historic Beale Street runs east-west).
In Montreal, "Avenue" (used for major streets in other cities) generally indicates a small, tree-lined, low-traffic residential street. Exceptions exist, such as Park Avenue and Pine Avenue. Both are major thoroughfares in the city. In older cities, names such as "Vale" which would normally be associated with smaller roads may become attached to major thoroughfares as roads are upgraded (e.g. Roehampton Vale).
In some cities in the United States (San Francisco; Houston; Detroit; Cleveland; Rochester, New York; Memphis), streets have official suffixes, but they are not generally given on street signs or used in postal addresses. In Chicago, suffixes are given on street signs but often ignored in popular speech and in postal addresses.
Street type designations include:
Some jurisdictions may use internal numbers to track county or city roads which display no number on signs.
Most streets have a traffic sign at each intersection to indicate the name of the road. The design and style of the sign is usually common to the district in which it appears. The sign has the street name and sometimes other information, such as the block number or the name of the London borough in which the street is located. Such signs are often the target of simple vandalism, and signs on unusually or famously named streets are especially liable to street sign theft.
Usually, the colour scheme used on the sign just reflects the local standard (white on a green background in the USA, for example). However, in some cases, the colour of a sign can provide information, as well. One example can be found in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Within city limits, all major arterial roads use a blue sign, north-south roads use a green sign, and east-west roads use a brown sign. Other places sometimes use blue or white signs to indicate private roads.
The reason for "Second" and "Third" streets being more common than "First" is that some cities do not have "First" streets — naming them "Main" instead, or renaming them after historical figures.