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Street names

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Street names
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Street names are widespread, commonplace and taken for granted,. Not every road in Britain and Ireland has a name, of course, there are many miles of rural lanes without an official name, but most roads in urban areas and a great number of more rural routes have a name, whether official (as in listed by the Ordnance Survey or Post Office in their indexes) or simply used locally to identify a particular route. Some roads manage to have more than one name. In urban areas, some of the longer roads will have an overall name, such as Leith Walk in Edinburgh, but within that, short stretches could be named independently - on Leith Walk there are Gayfield Place, Haddington Place, Albert Place and so on. These sub-names may often apply to just one side of the street, following the Victorian tendency to give names to each individual terrace. In more rural areas, a name such as 'Bristol Road' may run for many miles through villages where local street names briefly take over.

Often, roads may be named after their destination - there are many London Roads, for example - and it is not uncommon for roads in nearby towns to be named after one another - Hertford Road in Ware, turns into Ware Road in Hertford, for example. Most larger settlements also have a High Street/Road, or Main Road/Street (surprisingly, there are a large number of Main Roads in the UK - although of course Main Street to most conjurers images of small town America).

Street names almost always consist of two elements. The second is generally an indication of the type of road, while the former can come from a wide variety of sources. In most cases the first element is unique to the town or village, but sometimes in large estates the rather unimaginative developer will use the same first element with as many different second elements as they need.


In most urban, suburban and village settings, street names are signed by a small plate set less than a metre above the pavement / street level. In some older urban areas these plates are located much higher, between first floor windows. The typical plate is white with a black border and black lettering, although many councils have chosen to embellish their street signs. This can be as simple as a coat of arms, or the name of the council, but can also include the post code, and in bilingual areas will have both spellings. In some areas different colours are also in use. This may be to conform to someone's idea of what a heritage zone should look like, with White or Gold on Black quite common. However, it may simply to be different - normally it is the text colour that is changed, perhaps to blue or green, but occasionally the background colour can be changed, with black on yellow or white on brown both spotted.

First Elements

The first element of a street name can come from a wide variety of sources. Historically they were locally relevant - Church Street, London Road, Vicarage Lane, or perhaps named for the person who's house they served. The rapid growth of urban areas in the Victorian era, however, led to a need for more imaginative names, and while some areas used fairly simple ideas, including such names as First Avenue, New Road or Oldfield Drive, the idea of themed estates developed. In the Victorian era this saw lots of patriotic names - Royal or Empire names were common. Politicians, Lordships, Explorers and other celebrities of the day inspired names as well, which has led to the modern conventions of estates being named after flowers, birds, hills, rivers, and famous people from history, such as inventors, engineers, military figures, saints and those noted above. Some estates take a broader theme - such as religion - Priory Gardens, Deacons Way, Bishops Path, Cloisters Croft being a few from an estate set on the grounds of a former Convent in Burnham-on-Sea. From the nineteenth century Station became a common element; today there are probably more Station Roads than open railway stations.


A small number of Street names include a Prefix (or Suffix) to differentiate between two parts of what is essentially the same road, or between parallel roads. A few of the more common examples are:

  • Lower / Higher / Upper
  • New / Old
  • North / South / East / West
  • Back

Common second elements

By far the most common second element is Road, probably followed by Street. Until the Victorian era these probably made up the vast majority of urban street names, although rural areas had a somewhat wider variety of terms in use. There were some regional variations, with Bar and Gate or Gait a couple of examples.

Some of the more common terms are listed below, giving an indication of their original usage, although in modern developments there are examples of straight 'Crescents' and 'Closes' that are through roads.

Indicating a suburban, perhaps tree-lined street: Avenue, Drive, Gardens, Grove

Indicating Cul-de-Sacs: Close, Court, Place

Indicating a curved route: Circus, Circle, Crescent, Quadrant

A short run of houses or collection of buildings: Buildings, Cottages, Houses, Mews, Terrace

Indicating a narrow route, or rear access: Alley, Lane, Mews, Path, Walk, Wynd

Other suburban terms (normally short side roads): Field, Lawn, Meadow, Park, View, Way

Indicating an urban through route: Broadway, Kingsway, Parkway, Queensway

A sea front road: Esplanade, Promenade, (Marine) Parade

Rural routes (some also used in urban settings): Broad, Drove, Lane, Hill, Brae (Scotland)

Indicating a block of flats or similar: Hall, House, Tower

Themed Naming

More imaginative developers, meanwhile may opt to theme their estates - for example an estate in St Mellons, Cardiff has streets named after programming languages, such as Fortran, Cobol, and Pascal; while one in Stevenage has Roman themed names after the construction work excavated a Roman villa in the 1980s.

The most imaginative name, certainly for comedic purposes, however, was the developer who came up with the idea of calling the road housing South Yorkshire Police Headquarters "Letsby Avenue"[1]}


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