What’s in a Name?

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Thursday March 15, 2012

On what street do you live?  Do you know where that name originated?  Does it make sense to you?

Ever since South Burlington was established in 1865, the streets have been named without a policy, and some would say, with little common sense.  In the late 1940s, when the population boomed and people began having families and building homes, neighborhoods and house-lined streets began to spring up. Farms along the Dorset, Hinesburg, Spear and Shelburne corridors began to sell off land to developers and the pace has increased ever since.  Those farms had names such as Butler Farm, Nowland Farm and Economou Farm and, over time,  the roads were named accordingly; Butler Drive, Nowland Farm Road and Economou Farm Road. 
This street naming process worked well for a while, until corporations began moving in to town and naming streets after themselves.  And, although corporations regularly change hands, the street signs have often remained the same. Adelphia Drive, however, was established when the Adelphia company was established there, but when Comcast bought them out in 2006, the city did in fact change the street’s name to Comcast Drive. 

Problems can arise when a corporation, who is not alone on a street, has named that street after themselves.  If the company for whom the street was named was to change hands, as was the case with Adelphia and Comcast, and the street name were to change because of it, all of the other businesses would have to change their address as well.

Paul Conner, director of Planning and Zoning, says that the main concern when naming streets is safety.  Above all else, the street must not be confusing when a citizen calls 911.  South Burlington and Burlington are not only close in proximity but also in name, so if there were an emergency call from a Pearl Drive in South Burlington (for example), they would not want to erroneously send help to Pearl Street in Burlington.  This is a regulation spelled out in the City’s 911 ordinance, which is common throughout the state of Vermont.  

Street names can also be confusing when they seemingly have complete disregard for their surroundings.  The Heatherfield neighborhood located south of I-189 on Dorset Street is a good example of the street names coinciding with the landscape.  Songbird Lane runs through the neighborhood’s core, while streets such as Chickadee Circle, Woodthrush Circle, Hummingbird Lane and Finch Court turn off from it.  “Songbirds such as these are certainly present in South Burlington and are part of the landscape of the area,” says Conner.

The Orchards neighborhood has also named streets after a relevant part of its landscape. Baldwin Avenue, Greening Avenue, Cortland Avenue, and McIntosh Avenue boast landscapes that still contain such trees.  Similarly, in the Cider Mill development, Crispin Drive, Royal Drive, and Braeburn Street are dotted with their namesake apple tree as well.
Conner said that the names of longstanding families in the city of South Burlington also make it on street signs.  The Farrell family and the O’Brien family have historic relevance and have previously owned large amounts of land associations in the area, so there are streets named for their contributions.

Safety, landscape, and historical relevance all carry weight when it comes to naming the streets of South Burlington.  Associate Planner Cathyann LaRose emphasized that there are limitations in place about the size of street signs in South Burlington. “There is also an internal staff policy among the Planning Commission that street signs have a 13-character limit so that people can see the street name from a distance.”

SOURCE: Lisa Mattingly, Correspondent