- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

From Lost Knife Road and Supreme Court in Gaithersburg to Staya Way in North Carolina, streets say something about the culture, or how it is changing.
After last year's bioterror attacks, officials in Cumberland County, N.C., took a second look at Anthrax Avenue. This dead-end street in Fayetteville, once named after a heavy-metal band popular in the 1980s, was changed to Allegiance Avenue, to better reflect the new century's patriotic mood.
Street names reflect the ideal personality for an area, hence the frequent use of English estate-sounding nomenclature or nature-tinged monikers.
"We build upscale homes; we don't want to slap a tacky name on the streets," says Jeremy Holder, project manager of Ausherman Homes, which has been designing communities in Frederick, Md., since 1951.
"Generally, the owners would not appreciate us being too witty with the street names," he says. "We try to stay away from the political issues."
Generic themes usually consist of flowers, trees and famous personalities, including Civil War generals. The newest Ausherman community will reflect the designer's passion: the Rockies. His new green street signs will proclaim the names of various Colorado peaks: Redcloud Court, Moran Drive and Washburn Court.
"I doubt very seriously that many people will ever pick up on the theme," Mr. Holder says.
Another of his communities commemorates poets with names such as Longfellow Court and Greenleaf Drive. In Columbia, Md., the Rouse Co. named a community Hobbit's Glen using themes from J.R.R. Tolkien's secondary books as street names for Willow Bottom Way and Buckleberry Path.
Streets are named after racehorses in one upscale Bowie neighborhood. In Gaithersburg, there is Supreme Court, Circuit Court, Federal Court and State Court but no Traffic Court.
A city council typically gives developers the final go-ahead on street choices. A main concern is that names are not repeated, because duplicate Main Streets, for example, could confuse rescue workers responding to emergencies.
Naming streets "is a combination of keeping the history, being creative and keeping people from getting lost," says Kerk Eby, city planner for Gaithersburg.
The city occasionally will recommend street names. One of the first streets in Montgomery Village was called Painted Post. As Painted Post is also the name of a town in upstate New York, Mr. Eby suggested naming the next street Corning, followed by Elmira, both New York towns.
"That was my little contribution," he says.
Some regions encourage developers to promote local heritage and history. In Hawaii, all suggested street names must be Hawaiian words with appropriate spellings from a Hawaiian dictionary. Kumukea Road (meaning "white wave") is on the west side of the island of Hawaii. Kilikaa Road passing or moving (rain) shower is on the east side.
Newer Hawaiian developers are choosing the names of native birds.
"It is important to the keeping with the sense of place and heritage," says Johnathen Holmes, zoning clerk for the Hawaii County planning department.
Other areas are less concerned with curb appeal and more concerned with safety.
"The whole purpose of approving names is to avoid confusion for emergency response time," says Joe Adkins, city planner for Frederick.
"There was a trend to have three- or four-word names, like Laurel Wood Grove Way," he says, but that became too confusing and "we had to cut them down."
In Annapolis, the city wanted to honor its former governor. A Bladen Street already existed, so developers called its new street Gov. Thomas Bladen Way, a mouthful for residents.
More creative titles abound. Bass Harbor, Maine, has a Bent Wire Road and Pork Chop Road. A street near Washington Dulles International Airport is named Windsock Drive. In Mocksville, N.C., residents named several of their private roads Staya Way, Getta Way, Keepa Way and Outatha Way. The reason for the latter stemmed from Davie County officials wanting street names for rescue vehicles. Property owners along the nameless roads had the right to award names to the avenues.
An article in the October issue of Crisis, a Catholic magazine, asked why expressions of faith could not be posted along the general right of way. In Austria, one of Vienna's main thoroughfares is Marian: Mariahilferstrasse.
"What's to stop a Catholic church from trying to get the street it's on named after it?" moral theologian John Grodnelski wrote in "Decorating Naked Public Squares."
"St. Stephen's Street" sounds a lot better to me than the generic "Elm Street," and one can always argue in the inevitable court challenge that the name is 'a testimony to the long-term presence of this landmark church.'"
Many cities choose numbers and letters to create an easily navigable street grid. In the District, French architect Pierre L'Enfant imposed a grid of streets and roundabouts supposedly to keep people from getting lost.
In his 1921 book, "The American Language," journalist H.L. Mencken says the British ascribe the American custom of numbering and lettering streets to "sheer poverty of invention" rather than a desire to keep people from getting lost.
He continues by sympathizing with the French for the way the Southerners mangle the French language in Louisiana.
"In New Orleans the street names, many of them strikingly beautiful, are pronounced so barbarously by the people that a Frenchman would have difficulty recognizing them," he says.
Examples he lists include Bourbon Street, which has become Bur-bun, and Dauphine, now Daw-fin. Bons Enfants, he supposes, was too difficult for the natives, who translated it into Good Children.
Meanwhile, city planners in Rockville try to avoid names that may entice people to steal the signs. The city learned a lesson from Prince George's County, which routinely loses its sign off Easy Street.

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