Did you grow up in a place called Colonial Terrace? Lawndale? Hawthorne Grove? Then you might want to thank Stanley L. McMichael. In his 1949 book Real Estate Subdivisions, the real estate guru took all the guesswork out of naming new suburban streets, providing a supersafe and hypersanitized vanilla list of options for future subdivision names.
Several pages in the book's appendix are devoted to this inspirational lineup, which includes 750 potential names "suggested for subdivisions by operators throughout the country, as reported in the National Real Estate Journal."
Yep, it's a guide to choosing a baby name for a new street or entire neighborhood, one not inspired by local history or climate—or by any naturally occurring landforms—but crowdsourced from the insights of "operators."
As bizarre as many of the names are—Electric Highway Park?—it's obvious that many developers took the advice of the National Real Estate Journal to heart. Just looking at the list, I feel right back home in my suburban St. Louis subdivision (named Templeton Place). It's amazing how many of these names I can envision clearly as neighborhoods and streets near where I lived.
This list is over 60 years old, but naming subdivisions (and housing developments, and condo towers) is still tough work, even though it's a little different, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune. Developers now need names that make their properties look high-class yet accessible, though they are more likely to make them as unique as possible:
For example, would you buy a house in a subdivision called Belle Maison?
Hmmm. Sounds French. Frilly? Overdone? Pretentious?
Tom Bruce, division manager in Charlotte, N.C., for UDC Homes, nixed Belle Maison as a name for an upscale subdivision UDC opened last year. Instead, the name became Providence Arbours.
Providence Arbours? That sounds English. Traditional. Trees. (And it has been a strong seller for UDC.)
Nowadays, you might also want your subdivision not to be plucked out of a book, so it could be somewhat Googleable. Hence the Arbours.
Today we also have tongue-in-cheek tools like the Real Estate Subdivision Name Generator, which can create as many as 20 fresh names for speculative subdivisions at once. It also has an option to generate negative names—like Repellent Desert.
And there are also some regional attempts to poke fun at the silliness, like this generator for suburban Denver that produces fancy Western-influenced names like The Homestead at Buffalo Canyon Landing that do not feel so far from reality at all.
To me, this list signifies where we went wrong. As if carbon-copying our houses in unnatural clusters wasn't bad enough, we named our neighborhoods—our homes!—from a guide in a book?
It validates the quest for uniformity that seemed to pervade our mid-century mindset, this idea of pasting an artificial name on an artificial place. There's a Woodcrest in every city in America, I bet. And they all look just the same. [h/t Mark Vallianatos]