Should There be Streets and Avenues in the Suburbs?

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, October 19, 1914: << no entry>>

Picture source: Wikimedia Commons
Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sigh. . . Grandma didn’t again write anything a hundred years ago today; but I came across a fun opinion piece in the August, 1914 issue of Ladies Home Journal that I thought you might enjoy. Apparently suburbs were a relatively new concept back then, and some of the basics were still being figured out—like how to name the roads.

“Avenues” in the Suburbs

Can anyone give a good reason why we persist in creating “streets” and “avenues” in our new suburbs when what we are really creating are “Ways,” “Roads.” and “Lanes,” and should so name them.

We say when we move out to the suburbs that we do so because we want “to get out of the city,” and then we deliberately drag the nomenclature of the city with us. A “street” is essentially a word that we associate with a city thoroughfare: It is, in fact, according to a dictionary definition, “a public highway with buildings on one or both sides, in a city.”

An “avenue” is, according to dictionary authority, “a wide or principal street: a broad thoroughfare.” Now try to imagine any of the so-called “avenues” in our suburbs as “side or principal streets,” or “broad thoroughfares.” Perhaps you live on such an avenue: a “Maple Avenue,” say, a city block or two long and twenty feet wide! Would it not more truly reflect its real character and its surroundings had it been called “Mapleway,” or “Maple Road”? And, above all, should we not be using our language a little more correctly?

One progressive little community is taking hold of this erroneous nomenclature and has changed “Home Avenue” to “Homeway”: a one-block “Maple Avenue” has become what it is: “Mapleway,” bordered with maple trees, and “Chestnut Avenue” has become “Chestnut Lane.”

Why not be right instead of wrong in the use of the language, particularly when it is just as easy to be right?

Whew, the author got really carried away with the quotation marks. I got tired of typing them every time an “avenue”, “street,” or other “road” was mentioned.

29 thoughts on “Should There be Streets and Avenues in the Suburbs?

  1. Good article find!! I would never have thought about that! I enjoy looking for very interesting street names! Happy weekend! Hugz Lisa and Bear

    1. My sense is that street names give clues as to how old a neighborhood is. I live in a 1980s house–and lots of the street names in the area are first names (for example, Lisa Street) which seems very 80ish.

  2. Wow! Very opinionated! I never really thought about it. Of course, I grew up in a tiny town with NO streets/avenues/ways or lanes…! A 2-lane highway went right through our little village, and that was it!

  3. My husband has a thing for sidewalks and the lack of them and I have a thing for street names, so we have lovely walks, plus lots of things in nature to talk about! We live on Berclair Lane. Wonder how they chose that?

  4. I grew up on an “Avenue” in Forestville, a suburb of Bristol, CT. From the attitude of the kids at Bristol High School one felt that “suburb” was an insult, meaning something like “less than urban.” But, whatever the street/road/lane names, it was a great place to grow up.

    By the way, our “Avenue” was a hill. When the snow came in winters the cops closed off the road so we could slide there. My dad was happy to find alternate routes to get close to home. He could pick up the car later.(At least he acted like he was happy)

  5. Wow strongly held feelings by the writer on this subject! What drives me crazy is when they change the names of straight roads (generic application only!!) from one side of an intersection to the other…
    You do find some interesting stuff.

    1. I also thought that the author seemed very opinionated. There are some really confusing streets in my neighborhood that change their names as they go from one municipality into another.

  6. I remember my mother telling me on a road trip in about 1949 that streets “always” go north and south and “avenues” always go east and west, so one should be able to know which way on is going. I wonder if there must have been a city she knew where that was the case.

  7. Your opening sigh made me feel for you…
    On a related note to your post: I was in Pittsburgh this past weekend and read a newspaper article about the naming of towns and places. Evidently the US Board of Geographic Names, created in 1890 to maintain uniform name usage, decided that all cities / towns with a burg or berg would have no H on the end. A group of Pittsburgh citizens lobbied the board and those in favor of keeping the H won the day!
    Slight digression from your post ….

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