Old street names, new street names

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2016

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    Isle of Wight’s school bus schedule is probably the last place one should look for social commentary, but lo’ and behold, there it is every year. It has to do with street names — the places we live, whether by default or choice.

    And it has occurred to me, in looking over the schedule over the years, that there are two Isle of Wight’s developing, one steeped in rural tradition, and the other steeped in the real estate market place.

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    But allow me to back up. Each year, county school officials send us Excel spread sheets on which are inscribed the bus stops of every school bus driver in the county. The list gives bus numbers and drivers, each stop they make and the time of that stop.

    In order to prepare the list for printing, we place it in a computerized version of a newspaper page, each stop and time taking one line of type, one column long. Once the copy has been placed in that format, we have to abbreviate any long street names so that they, together with the bus stop time, will fit in one line. It’s a challenge in some instances to concoct an abbreviated name that will be clear to readers.

    It was while making those adjustments that I noticed a pattern. Most of the names in rural Isle of Wight, Smithfield and Windsor — with some notable exceptions — fit very easily on one line with no abbreviation. But there were blocks of names that always require a lot of work. The longest street names, by far, are in Gatling Pointe. Running a close second is Carisbrooke and third is a more recent addition, Wellington Estates.

    It then occurred to me that street names tell a lot about where people live. You don’t have to know where Rattlesnake, Old Mill or Colosse Roads are to somehow just know that they’re not subdivision streets. But it also doesn’t take a huge amount of local knowledge to guess that streets like Spinnaker Run Lane, Whippingham Parkway and Winterberry Circle didn’t get their names from some local family who grew peanuts here.

    The difference is pronounced. The names associated with country roads just sort of evolve over the years. They might reflect some local landmark, like Scott’s Factory, which may have vanished a century ago, or carry a name with roots even deeper, like Old Stage Highway. Whatever the name, it had a practical use — to guide local people from one point to another by easily recognized and simple names.

    Subdivision streets, however, are generally designed to market the subdivision. Hence, 50 years ago Carisbrooke borrowed names from Isle of Wight, England, as a neat way of making an historic connection to Isle of Wight’s English namesake.

    Equally innovative — and designed to sell — was Gatling Pointe’s use of nautical names, such as Clipper Creek Circle and Commodore Lane. All nautical, but even among nautical terms, carefully selected.

    Meanwhile, over in Wellington, bus drivers stop at the intersection of Grandville Arch & Westminster Reach.

    And the lesson in all this? Not really that much. Just that the more upscale the subdivision, the greater the odds that your street name won’t fit in one newspaper column of 7-point Franklin Gothic type.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This “Short Rows” was originally published in September 1999 shortly after school opened. It has been edited to bring it up to date for republishing.