Where Do Street Names Come From?

street-names-come Credit: Marcin Wichary/CC-BY 2.0

Historically, streets were commonly named for defining features, such as nearby landmarks, geographical location or physical features. In the modern era, real estate and subdivision developers typically name new streets when they construct them.

In earlier eras of urban development, city streets in the United States were named practically. Streets were often named for topography or nearby natural features, such as Hill or Water Street. Streets were also commonly named for geography or cardinal directions, such as East or Upper. Major thoroughfares often had names that signified power, such as State or King, or leadership, such as Jefferson or Washington.

New streets are now mainly named in suburbs and new housing developments, since most streets in cities are already named. Typically, the developers who build settlements on the streets get to pick the street names. Developers submit names to the city for review, where they are approved or rejected based on feedback from various city departments, including public works, engineering, fire, police and the post office. Local police and fire departments have the greatest amount of input since they must be able to distinguish street names in emergency situations.

While developers are free to submit any name for a street, many cities have standards dictating what type of names streets can have in certain areas. This is why many parts of cities and suburbs have names that all fit into a similar theme, such as trees or U.S. states.