Street Smarts

What’s in name? Greg Dawson answers that question when he researches the science behind street-naming in new developments.

Latham Park South is a freshly hatched development of handsome upscale homes, starting in the $200s, on the windswept savanna of far southwest Orange County where live oak saplings are strapped to the ground and two-by-fours prop up young palm trees.

When I visited in late May there were more street signs than residents. That was OK because I was there to study the signs, to better understand the science of street naming. Why in Central Florida are there so many street names with forests, woods, glens, coves and brooks where there are no forests, woods, glens, coves and brooks?

Attempting to create an illusion, developers ask us to suspend our disbelief. Take Shipbrook Way in Latham Park. Gazing in all directions across mostly empty building sites, I saw nothing to suggest ships or brooks. What is going on here?

It’s Tina Lee, doing her best with a very tough assignment: create street names for a piece of property that does not really suggest much of anything. How do you start?

“When you have a piece of property you look at the history—if there’s any interesting history—and start looking at names,” says Lee, land entitlement manager, and street namer, for builder Ashton Woods.

Lee studied the “history” of Latham Park, a parcel Ashton acquired from the original developer, and traced the name back to old England. She decided on a “palaces and castles” theme with names such as Bradleigh, Shocklach, Doddington, Aldford and Frodsham.

Jolly good try, I would say. Naming streets probably looks like more fun from a distance than it is, especially in a big, fast-growing county where so many names are already taken.

Builders get to name the streets in new developments, but they’re subject to government approval. Public safety, not good taste, is the overriding priority of Orange County in the birthing of new names.

“The developer submits three potential names for each street to 911 Service to review to make sure there isn’t a street by that name or one that sounds phonetically similar,” says Doreen Overstreet, a county spokesperson.

This is vital for emergency vehicles—fire, police, ambulances—to say nothing of pizza delivery drivers and out-of-state friends and family visiting for the first time.

Orange County’s list of streets, numbering in the thousands, offers oddities, numbing repetition, puzzling oversights (not a single Elvis sighting), some pop culture references (Abbey Road, Zorro Lane, Sunset Boulevard, Yankee Doodle Avenue), and rare flashes of subversive wit (Aaron Burr Avenue).

Builders shy away from famous and celebrity names, which can come back to bite you, Lee said. Think of all the builders thankful they decided against Cosby Cove.

At the other end of the spectrum are avenues of the unknown. Meaning no disrespect, but who the heck were/are Tom Skinner, Dannah Justine, Page Leigh and Herb Hudson?

Builders who want a tropical flair but find citrus and palm exhausted—45 orange and 55 palm-based names—should know that bananas are available. Yes, we have nearly no bananas. There is only one banana-based street in all of Orange County: Banana Bay Drive.

I was surprised to learn that few people know the power and lasting influence Lee wields as Namer of Streets. Meeting people for the first time, she’s vague, like a CIA agent or sewage plant worker. “I don’t really talk about what I do in detail.”

For me, if a new acquaintance mentioned he lived on Tangelo Twist Alley, the temptation would be overwhelming to say, “Been there—named that!” 

Which she did. Along with—for a different Ashton development—Honeybell Drive, Orange Cream Alley, Sweet Clementine Alley, Dwarf Lemon Alley, and Sugar Citrus Drive.

The county also gets requests for renaming streets, which requires approval of 75 percent of the residents on that street. Sometimes it’s an homage earning an easy rubber stamp, such as changing Minor Avenue on Orlando’s west side to Mable Butler Avenue in honor of the former city council member and county commissioner.

Sometimes it’s not. Recently a citizen—rumored to be a Mr. Krueger—requested a change that went straight to the legal department for review before it could be submitted for approval by the street. His request: “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Intriguing. Bold. Outside the box. But the county rejected it, saying there could be a copyright infringement issue. Just as well. Who’s going to deliver a pizza to Nightmare on Elm Street? 

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