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February 6, 2000 - Road Names - 2002-02-01

INTRO: This week VOA's Wordmasters, Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble, answer a listener question that takes us on the road.

MUSIC: "Hit the Road, Jack"/Ray Charles

AA: This song goes out to Zhang Tian-guan in Luoyang City, Henan Province, China.

RS: He wrote to ask us about the differences in the words "street," "road," "avenue," "boulevard" and "drive" --

AA: -- as in typical American road names like "Washington Street," "Jones Boulevard," "University Drive," "Magnolia Road" and "New York Avenue."

RS: This question calls for someone with street smarts.


"My name is Ray Pethtel. I'm University Transportation Fellow and associate director of the Center for Transportation Research at Virginia Tech."

AA: We asked Mr. Pethtel how a "street" is different from, say, a "drive."


"There is no national standard that I'm aware of or that I could locate regarding street names."

RS: So, we suggest that you not worry about it.

Ray Pethtel says that in many cases choosing a street name comes down to the whim of whoever builds property on the surrounding land.


PETHTEL: "There was a road near my home in Richmond [Virginia] that was called Allecingie ['ah-le-'sin-gee] Drive. It was named by the developer of the area, and it was named after his three daughters. He put their names together, and it became Allecinge. It didn't mean anything to me as a resident of the area, but it meant something to the developer."

AA: "It seems like presidents' names and tree names are popular choices in lieu of a name like Allecingie if the developer doesn't have three daughters to name his streets after. What are some other popular choices for street names?"

PETHTEL: "Periods of history. There seem to be some of the monarchies, King Arthur Court and Prince William Drive and those kinds of names are very popular. Certainly trees - elm and spruce, whatever's dominant in the area. Historical figures, presidents."

RS:In some cities, though, like Washington DC, streets are named in a system that can serve as a guide -- if you know the code. Ray Pethtel recalls trying to navigate the streets when he lived here in the nation's capital.


"One of my neighbors told me that the easy way to figure out the direction you're going, is to look first at the letters - M Street, etc., then the next series of streets will also be in alphabetical order, one syllable, then two syllables, and three syllables. And they used to say, 'but forget the major avenues,' because they just happen to be there wherever somebody put them. Massachusetts ... "

AA: "Pennsylvania Avenue."

PETHTEL: "And Vermont. There was no rhyme or reason for the streets named after states." AA: "And, finally, what is your favorite street name?"

PETHTEL: "I guess my favorite is Luster's Gate Road. I have absolutely no idea why the name. I suppose somebody at one time in history, probably named Luster, had a gate on the road and it was a farm road, and it's now the road that runs by my house. And I think to many people their favorite street is the one that goes right by their house."

RS: So what's your question about American English?

AA: We might be able to answer it on the air. Our e-mail address is

RS: Or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20237 USA. Next week at this new time, we'll introduce you to a romance coach -- to help get you ready for Valentines Day!

MUSIC:"Love on a Two-Way Street"/Gloria Estefan