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)


labelscar

While I have no data to back up this assertion, I would think street names matter in lots of different ways--home resale, for example, is influenced by so many subtle factors, that it's entirely possible that over time, houses on a street with a less desirable name will sell for less than those on a street with a more desirable name. Similarly, I would be *really* interested to see the difference in streets that have names that are indicative of location, but lack personality, such as any city where there are numbered or lettered street names. Similarly, if it's a city where only part of the city has such a naming convention (i.e., not New York, but some random city where only a part of the city has streets that are numbered from 1st to 15th, or something), then I wonder if there is a stigma associated with living in the number or letter-designated streets because they lack personality, or denote a certain kind of blandness and social order that people might associate with lower social status? I may be assuming too much but I think there are a lot of different factors you could explore in this.

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slowrideR

Amarillo, Texas has a road that intersects with I-40. Going North this road is called Ross, going South the road is called Osage. The exit from the interstate is thus the Ross-Osage exit. For some travelers when given phone directions, they get lost looking for the Raw Sausage exit.

mare

Finally I can share a tidbit of my life that never came up in conversation before: My parents named all their children so their names would make nice street names. Really, I'm not making this up. And before you ask, no they didn't push us to become famous enough to actually get streets named after us. That won't happen in the near future.

hephail

In India, followers of Hinduism, have names, which have a meaning.
How does this affect your philosophy?
--
Werner Egipsy Souza (People say that my name should open doors for me, would that be true? :p)

hephail

Next question, how do online nicknames affect our success on the net?
:p

-
Werner

rbehemoth

Isnt 'Street naming' or selecting a house on the basis of the street somewhat similar to selecting/avoiding Floor No./House No. 13. If people are buying a house, they would probably use all their superstitious beliefs...and hence would be probably scared away by 'bad omens' or influenced by 'good omens'.

Jordan Gottke

I think that Street names matter (to some people). I'm sure some people have negative feelings towards a street name. If a street has a really bad name, it will probably affect some people and maybe make them less willing to live on a specific street. I agree with the last poster in the fact, that most people have stigmas/supersitions about certain things (like the 13th floor).

Daze

In Austin, there's a corner of Mecca Road and Zion Way.

Jennifer42

#5, to what extent do you suppose the "feminine" name issue reflects the values of the parents rather than outside expectations? I would assume a mother who names a daughter "Isabella" might have different expectations of her daughter than one who names hers "Alex."

On the topic at hand- I don't know what effect street names might have, except when street names are tied to particular neighborhoods. I am reminded of the residents of "Gay Court" who forced a name change to "High Eagle Road," which seemed like overcompensation to me.

daveb

Two missing observations:
1) All the considerations about people's desire to buy on Jackass St. ignore the self-fulfilling prophecy effect: If you own undeveloped or underdeveloped property on Jackass St., are you more likely to build a mansion or a shack? Since SOMEbody is likely to build a shack, you're just never going to see mansions there, since value is most strongly determined by the worst looking property in the area. So most of the effect is front-loaded. If you just look at the present situation, the fact that people took the name into consideration when they were developing gets lost when you adjust for comparability. The most revealing study would compare the level of development of houses on streets with clearly undesirable names to neighboring streets within neighborhoods with homogeneous demographics.
2) No one mentioned the greatest real-estate naming scam in history, lovely Iceland and worthless Greenland.

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samjsan

In the city where I grew up, we had a Gaybar St. It always inspired adolescent giggles. I have to wonder what the namers had in mind.

tom

being a realtor for over 16 years, i've found it not unusual for people to be concerned about street names. many people do not want to live on a numbered street. and good sounding names make people feel good "eagle" "deer" "sunset", "sunrise, etc.

tom

yo mamma

anecdotally - There's a street in Columbia, MD called "Dark Fire Way". I think it's cool just because it's unique but I'm not sure what to think about the potential supernatural ramifications :)

That's a little occult humor for ya.

For adolescent giggles, let's not forget Michigan I-75's exit 69: Big Beaver Road. YES!! I love that road!

Navigationally - I've always been perturbed by streets with similar sounding names that intersect. In Grand Rapids, MI there's an intersection of Fountain and Fulton streets. Even worse, though, is the fact that GR is divided up into quadrants. Whenever a street crosses a quadrant the numbering starts over. So you can have a 515 Fulton NW and a 515 Fulton NE and they can even be in same zip. *Sigh* so much undelivered mail.

a person

Somewhere in Long Grove, IL, there's a street called Robert Parker Coffin Road. It's two lanes wide, and runs through some forested residential areas and a small historic downtown. A map shows as a good shortcut in some cases. But for years, I was afraid to drive on it at night. After all, why is there a word "coffin" in its name, and who was Robert Parker? What about his ghost?

It wasn't until recently that when I looked it up online, the website said that the road is named after an active resident named Robert Parker Coffin. So I guess "Coffin" refers to his last name, not something used at funerals. But I can imagine the reactions Mr. Coffin gets from people.

Lori

I have lived in Austin all my life (40yrs), and it was brought to my attention that streets here in austin texas off of Congress avenue (which leads to the capitol) were named after prostitues. I do know that it was called the "red light" district when I was growing up. Now I know what that means.

Jerry

In Providence RI
The Rich live off Power st
The poor live off Hope st and Frendship is a One-Way St

Frances

In a south Austin suburb, there is a street in a new development called Convict Hill. I always get chills driving past it and find it a shame that one of the nicest young families I know lives on that street.

Matt

Railway Crossing Elimination Road, changed over 20 yrs ago to Bayview Rd, in Grandbay-Westfield, NB.

Quispamsis, NB has a neighbourhood with: Vegas Dr, Flamingo Ct, Mirage Lane, Luxor's Ct and Casear's Ct

Mark M

I agree with post #51. This study is easy if you accept that what you are looking for is conventional versus unconventional not pleasant versus unpleasant.

Then you start pulling transaction records from the aforementioned Columbia MD. It has to be the king of unconventional names. I consider myself 10 kinds of lucky to live on Delphinium Court rather than Dark Fire Way, a street name I had not previously encountered in this slice of suburbia.

Marie

I grew up on Cemetery Road. I didn't realize this was odd until i got older... anyways, this road is out in the middle of nowhere texas and only until recently did it have actual addresses. We had to use PO boxes long after even more rural roads got mail delivery. I always wondered if the road name had something to do with this.