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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What’s in a Name? Everything when it comes to Columbia streets

You know you live in Columbia if you have a crazy street name.  As much as the People Tree and the Columbia Mall the street names of Columbia and now throughout Howard County define the uniqueness of our community.  I remember years ago ordering something from L.L. Bean and when I gave my street address the operator said, “That must be Columbia.”  And I don’t have one of the stranger names. The operator said that they frequently had orders from Columbia so all the operators used to laugh at some of our names. It is no wonder that when it came time for L.L Bean to open one of their first retail stores they chose the Columbia Mall.

Yesterday I stopped into the Columbia Archives office and Barbara Kellner showed me a book that the Archives had published on the street naming in Columbia.  From that book I learned that the job of coming up with street names in 1963 landed on the desk of Scott Ditch, director of market­ing for The Rouse Company.  Rouse wanted street names that would identify Columbia as being a new or different community.  Street naming had to be novel.  It was a great “branding” technique for the new town. Ditch came up with the novel idea of using works of literature for names because the Post Office would not approve a street name already used in the County or in one of the counties that touched Howard County.  That's one reason why so many new street names are two words. Ditch in turn looked to one of his research assistants, Evelyn Menzies who was a reader of literature and poems.  Menzies suddenly had her ideal job of getting paid to read works of literature at the Enoch Pratt Library near her home in Roland Park. Many of the neighborhoods were named after the writer or poet from which the streets were named.  That’s how we got Longfellow, Faulkner Ridge, Dickinson, Clemens Crossing, Hawthorne and Bryant Woods. 

Some of strangest names are:
Beaverkill
Possum court
Lame Beaver Court
Coon Hunt Court
Bare bush
Black star
Broken lute
Catfeet court
Clear smoke
Deep smoke
Dried earth blvd
Ducks foot
Rusty rim
Oven bird green
Little boots
Hobnail ct
Flamepool way

The Gateway Industrial Park has the streets named after inventors:
Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Samuel Morse, Robert Fulton, Alexander Bell

Many streets have the same part of name.  16 streets have the name “autumn” in it,23 have “blue” in name, 50 that start with “old.” Out parcels seem to like family first names like:  Debbie Court, Deborah Jean Drive, Diane Lane, Donald Ave, Rosemary Lane, Rachael Court, Katie Lane, Jerry’s Drive.

One of the most controversial street names that gained national attention was when the residents of Satan Wood Lane petitioned to have the name changed to Satin Wood Lane. As Fox News reported it,
“Thanks to a clerical error 30 years ago, the whimsically titled "Satin Wood Drive" in Columbia, Md., took on demonic overtones and was officially named ‘Satan Wood Drive.’ It's a lovely, tree-lined street with nicely proportioned Colonial houses on large lots. But to its residents, it's a curse. "You almost feel ostracized, like you're the black sheep of the village," electrical engineer Jamie Aycock told the Baltimore Sun. "Sometimes they look at me like I'm a devil worshipper." "I went to Sunday school, and this was a word that you never said," transplanted Texan Barbara Chapman told the Columbia Flier. "Nobody in Texas knows that I live on S-A-T-A-N." Aycock tells store clerks that the street name is pronounced sat-AN-wood. "I tell them it's French," he told the Sun. Duane Johnson, an Orthodox priest, sprinkles holy water all through his house every year, but that didn't prevent embarrassment when church headquarters called to confirm the address. "There's not even an agreement on whether 'Satan Wood' is one word or two," Aycock told the Flier. "On one sign it's one word and on the other [sign] it's two." And, of course, one day the street froze over, prompting jokes from friends that residents would finally be paid back.”

Now this is where this blog gets creepy.  After writing about the Fox story I looked at the temperature before going out to run and my thermometer read 66.6 degrees.  Cue the Twilight Zone theme!

So grin and bear it all you folks who get laughs from people when you give someone your address.  Revel in the uniqueness that can’t be shared with all those folks who live on Main, Maple, Elm or Washington Street.

P.S.
An article in the Columbia Patch by the first women to wear pants at the Rouse Company caught my eye. Check it out

2 comments:

Brent The Brewer said...

Great article! I always thought the names around the area were funny. When my wife and I were looking to move to the area we looked at a house on "Wedding Ring Way" in Columbia. I shot it down based on the street name. I said "How am I going to invite my friends to my Man Room at our house on Wedding Ring Way?" I'd be picked on forever by my friends.

I think my favorite from the list that you put on there was "Lame Beaver Court." It wasn't good enough to just make "Beaver Court", it had to be a lame beaver. Haha!

Jen said...

Michael Chabon wrote a lovely essay about moving to Columbia in 1969, including a nice bit about the street names! http://fmarcial.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/michael-chabon-on-columbia-md/