September 12, 2007

Fifty ways to lose your lover: Edinburgh's street names

In a street name like Sesame Street, let us (just for clarity) refer to the more distinctive part (Sesame) as the forename, and the classificatory word part (Street) as the classname. Clearly, Smith Street and Smith Avenue are distinct proper names; but in the USA — or at least, very definitely in California (people tell me it is not nearly so true of cities like New York or Baltimore or Denver) — it is common for street classnames to be thought of as conveying virtually no information. In the American English of Northern California it is standard for streets to be referenced simply by forename. This is true even where it is significantly misleading: The sign on Junipero Serra Boulevard near Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, California, adjacent to the university and separate post town of Stanford, simply says Stanford, but it does not mean "This is Stanford"; it means "This side street is called Stanford Avenue". And of course intersections are denoted by coordinations of forenames (think of Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, or Florence and Normandy in south Los Angeles). Well, in Edinburgh, the city to which I moved a few days ago, things are very different. Nobody leaves off the classname here. It would be a ticket to confusion and madness. Let me explain.

Nobody in Edinburgh could possibly say, "We live on Inverleith." Edinburgh has an Inverleith Avenue, an Inverleith Avenue South, an Inverleith Gardens, an Inverleith Green, an Inverleith Place, an Inverleith Place Lane, an Inverleith Row, an Inverleith Terrace, and an Inverleith Terrace Lane, all on the same page of my street atlas yet all quite different and not necessarily adjacent or intersecting.

Did your hasty notes on a beer coaster say that you promised last night to pick up your hot date this Friday at a flat on Craigmount? You will find there are many ways to lose your lover: you might be looking for Craigmount Approach, Craigmount Avenue, Craigmount Avenue North, Craigmount Bank, Craigmount Bank West, Craigmount Brae, Craigmount Crescent, Craigmount Court, Craigmount Drive, Craigmount Gardens, Craigmount Green, Craigmount Green North, Craigmount Hill, Craigmount Loan, Craigmount Park, Craigmount Place, Craigmount Terrace, Craigmount View, or perhaps Craigmount Way. Lots of luck with arriving on time for that date. Next time get a phone number too.

As Andrew Durdin has pointed out to me, Buckstone is a particularly promiscuous forename. Street atlases list All of these:

Buckstone Avenue Buckstone Bank Buckstone Circle Buckstone Close
Buckstone Court Buckstone Crescent Buckstone Crook Buckstone Dell
Buckstone Drive Buckstone Gardens Buckstone Gate Buckstone Green
Buckstone Grove Buckstone Hill Buckstone Lea Buckstone Loan
Buckstone Loan East Buckstone Neuk Buckstone Place Buckstone Rise
Buckstone Road Buckstone Row Buckstone Shaw Buckstone Terrace
Buckstone View Buckstone Way Buckstone Wood Buckstone Wynd

That's 28 different Buckstone streets. And for good measure there is also one that has no classname, just an attributive premodifier of the forename: High Buckstone.

There are actually way over fifty ways to lose your lover in this city's streets. We get the first fifty from the fact that a cursory glance through a street index reveals that all of the following words to be quite common as street classnames in Edinburgh:

Approach Crescent Green Parade Square
Arcade Crest Hill Park Street
Avenue Dean Lane Passage Terrace
Bank Dell Lea Path View
Boulevard Drive Loan Place Villas
Circle End Mains Promenade Walk
Circus Entry Market Quadrant Way
Close Gait Mews Rise Wood
Cottages Gardens Mount Road Wynd
Court Glebe Neuk Row Yard

But in fact, for any chosen forename, we can make many more than fifty well-formed street names.

First, there are additional choices of classname that I did not include in the above top 50: I left out Brae, Buildings, Causeway, Crook, Crosscauseway, Grove, Junction, Pend, Port, Rigg, Stile, Syke, Vale, and various others.

Second, there are a large number of more complex street names combining a forename with two classnames: Argyle Park Terrace, Buccleuch Place Lane, Douglas Gardens Mews, Hermitage Park Green, Logie Green Gardens, Maitland Park Road, Merchiston Bank Gardens, Moredun Park View, Mortonhall Park Bank, Muir Wood Crescent, Niddrie Mains Terrace, Primrose Bank Road, Queen's Park Court, Regent Terrace Mews, and so on.

Third, there are many streets known simply by a forename (Abbeyhill, Blandfield, Croft-an-Righ, Damside, Esplanade, Fairbrae, Galachlawshot, Haymarket, etc.), and a few streets known simply by the definite article plus a classname with no forename at all (like The Mound or The Crescent).

Fourth, for any combination of forename and classname(s), any one of eight compass point names (North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, or North West) can be either prefixed (as in West Gyle Crescent) or suffixed (as in Craigmount Green North), so we can multiply the total so far by sixteen.

And to tell you the truth, it's more than that, because of at least one other place that a compass point can intervene: Edinburgh has a Thistle Street North East Lane and a Northumberland Street North West Lane.

It is a jungle of thoroughfare nomenclature out there, as was first pointed out to me by my colleague Bob Ladd when I got the classname of his address wrong. We're going over to his house tonight for dinner. Should be easy to find. He he lives over on Leamington, near Craigmount.

Thanks to John Cowan, Matthew Rankine, Dan Asimov, Jen Wood, Alexis Grant, and various other readers for corrections and additions that I have silently incorporated into the above since it was first posted.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 12, 2007 01:19 PM