Do Street Names Matter?

In research with Roland Fryer, later written up in Freakonomics, we asked the question “Does the name you give your child matter for her life outcome?” (I say “her” because we could only look at girls because the way we tried to answer the problem was by linking a baby girl’s birth certificate to the birth certificate of her child when she later gave birth.) We found that names didn’t seem to matter. Black women with “distinctively black” names had nearly identical — maybe even a little better — outcomes than did Black women with more traditional names.

Sylvia and Steve Crossland, two real estate agents in Austin, Texas, have posed the same question regarding street names on their blog. Will people pay less for an identical house if it is located on Sisquoc Avenue instead of Pleasant Street? I like their approach, which involves gathering data and making some sensible comparisons. I don’t think they conclusively answer the question with their data, but it is a good start.

The very fact that very few streets have really dismal names like “Massacre Lane,” or “Poison Avenue,” or “Stench Street” does suggest that when cities were first developing the people naming the streets associated some disutility with bad street names. Since it is essentially free to choose a good name for your street when you start, there is no particular reason to saddle your street with a bad name, even if the costs of having a bad name are trivial. So that doesn’t tell us much about the magnitude.

If street names matter, but a child’s name doesn’t, why is that? I would argue that most of the important interactions people have are with people who know them well. If a person knows you well, they have better signals than your name. Your street name mostly comes up in situations where people don’t know much about it, like in a for sale listing or ordering items from a catalog. Still, although I think a street name could matter a little, my guess is the effect is very small if it exists at all.

(hat tip to achen)


frankenduf

street names don't matter- but I always get the heebie jeebies when I drive by elm street...

kah

Doubt it will affect buyers' feelings much if at all.

I wonder if living on a street with an annoying name affects the feelings of people already living in a house, making them less happy with their home, more likely to feel like moving and thus put their house up for sale. But even if this occurs, it has to be a very small effect.

Barkley

Yesterday I passed by a street named Voltage Lane -- located right beneath the high voltage power lines.

Of course, I live on Sesame Street...

cthayler

I used to live on this road. I'm not sure about the cost effect on real estate, but it sure gave every customer service rep a good chuckle.

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=succabone%20lane%2C%20bedford%20ny&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&um=1&sa=N&tab=wl

obvioustroll

I found your statement that girl's names don't matter interesting because I just ran into this:

http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=451542&in_page_id=1770

It includes the claim that girls with "low status" names do slightly worse on exams and that girls with "feminine" names end up in "feminine" careers. The study speculates that this is caused by people treating girls with different names differently.

ray

There is an apocryphal story that Shore Parkway in Brooklyn, as you approach the area where the Verrazano Narrows Bridge now is, was originally designated as Circumnavigantial Drive. The story goes that the name was rejected as it wouldn't fit on the street sign. I think there may have been other considerations.

Mark F

Perhaps a useful way to go about this is to look at the impact on housing prices of 'stigmatized' street names. One of my cousins lived on Columbine lane which was a perfectly normal name until relatively recently.

chancey

top 10 count down of wakiest street names:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/27/ap/strange/mainD8G1F75O0.shtml

mgroves

The only concern I have about street names is if they are hard to say over the phone when you are giving directions or billing information.

I used to live on "Applause Ash Avenue", before that was "Earlsfield Loop". These are *terrible* names to give over the phone. "Walnut St" or "Reed Rd" are so much easier.

Other than that, why would it matter?

oddTodd

Since we're sharing anecdotes... I live on Elm Street. Pros: It's easy to spell. Cons: There's another Elm Street in my city(Cambridge, Mass.) and taxis and delivery drivers often end up at the wrong one. I hadn't thought about Nightmares until reading comment 1 above.

RandyfromCanada

please hows this for ironic l live on "easy" street seriously

think it means we all have it to easy or think it means l should be chatting with neighbourhood women more ! lol

have written the city to find out why they called this easy street and was told was done in 1974 and no one knows why ......

giromide

Street names don't matter unless everyone understands the contest. As a Chicagoland resident, I associate numbered streets with the economically downtrodden South Side even though those street names extend into some well-to-do south suburbs.

zbicyclist

Prediction: certeris paribus, an address on "Martin Luther King Drive" will lower property value at least $10,000.

Giromide in #12 provides an interesting way to test a version of this. In the Chicago suburbs there are numbered streets that extend into suburbs. The corresponding north-south streets do not have the same implications. Thus it is possible to find houses on the same block that are numbered streets like 60th (bad implication) and non-numbered, neutral streets.

TheGoodReverend

If some people find your personal name unattractive, they'll likely put the blame on your parents for choosing such a name. If they find your street name unattractive, they'll blame you for choosing the street you live on.

dan

has anyone mentioned chris rock's MLK blvd bit yet...?

in any town, any where, ever: 'If a friend calls you on the telephone and says they're lost on Martin Luther King Boulevard and they want to know what they should do, the best response is ‘Run!'

snubgodtoh

The effect is measurable, however would require a randomized controlled word association trial which would yield an ordinal ranking set for input into a hedonic model. What's 10 more RH vars. in a hedonic regression? Randy From Canada Street would undoubtedly produce the strongest negative coefficient.

LisaH

Street names probably do matter. Here in Colorado there's a Jack Ass Hill Road in a residential area south of Denver. The way it's designed, not one single house on the street has it's front door (and therefore address) on that road. The houses are all turned to face side streets. I know I wouldn't buy a house on street with that name.

Chewxy

In my country, there are some road names that are ridiculously long - some up to 8 words [like Jalan Tun Datuk Patinggi Abang Haji Muhammad Salahuddin] (its in Malay). I guess nobody would want to buy houses on those roads

But there are some road names that are surprisingly systematic, and really robotic, like SS20/1 (where SS20 is the area designation and /1 is street #1 and so on and so forth)... those addresses are easy to remember

110phil

Another anecdote: when I was looking for a house in an new development called "Central Park," the streets were named for New York venues. One of the streets was "Grammercy". The extra "m" really bugged me: who wants to live on a street wher you get jolted by a misspelling every time you come home from work? Also, I pictured everyone forever telling me I was spelling my street name wrong.

I'm not saying it would have necessarily kept me from buying a house there, if I really liked the house otherwise, but certainly would have been a real (if small) factor.

Nobrainer

An anecdote from a relative:

As we were re-developing [some] housing, I was given the task to come up with the new street names, choosing from plants/flowers (needed about 35). Sounds easy enough, till you realize that most of the “Maple,” “Oak,” etc. names are already taken in the city, and most people don't want to live on something like “Chrysanthemum Street” because they can't spell it.

So, I had pretty much found all the names but one and was struggling on the last one. At some point, I remembered a word that I had made up, just for the sake of making up a word, “Albasooskalanogoso.” I forget what it was supposed to mean. Anyhow, I took the “Nogoso” out of the last part of the word, thought it could pass for some type of Asian plant/tree (a relative of the Banzai perhaps), and ran with it. So now, somewhere in the area, there is a street named Nogoso Circle.

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