Street Names

(2005)

Recently it dawned on me that good old George never came to mind whenever I drove down Washington Street in Lansing, Michigan.  I don’t even know if the father of our country was supposed to.  Maybe it was Martha who was being commemorated.  Then when I found out that the former Logan Street was named after a Civil War General and not for a type of tree, I began to wonder.  Had the names of other roads been commemorative also?  Was there a Mr. Walnut?  And who exactly was this Main man?

Main and Main street sign

If you think about it, naming streets after people can be confusing.  I mean, who should get his or her name attached to a street?  National heroes?  Fallen policemen?  Hometown successes?  The mayor’s mistress?  Then what do you do if somebody with the name of Miller needs recognition?  You don’t want two streets with the same name.  Maybe just use the same street, take down the old Miller Street signs and put up new ones.  Nobody knows who the first Miller was anyway.

For some people it’s difficult to honor with a street name.  Take surnames like Smith, North, South, Front, Lake and Street.  People with these names would be honored better with a lifelike statue.  In fact, in the late 1970s there was actually a Michigan state senator by the name of Garland Lane.  The people from his home district renamed a road Gar Lane.  Lane Lane would have been diabolical.

King is a common name.  So in the many towns across American, when they honor the late reverend, they don’t label a street merely King Blvd, but usually use the complete cognomen, as in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.  As majestic as it sounds you have to admit it’s a bit long.  If I lived on that street I’d probably just scribble MLK, not out of disrespect, just out of fatigue.  I’ll bet you that after a few years this vital thoroughfare will become merely King Blvd.  Then some women’s group will demand that there be a Queen Blvd.

Naming streets after local heroes may make sense.  However, Doctor King, a great man to be sure, had little to do with Lansing where they honored him with a street.  The town does have local celebrities to memorialize, like Ervin “Magic” Johnson or the late Malcolm X.  With a name like Johnson, I suppose they would need the Ervin “Magic” on the signs too.  As for honoring Malcolm, “X Road” is my kind of street name.  But then again he might have preferred the Muslim name he took a year before his assassination.  “Could you deliver a pizza to 1173 South El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Boulevard?”

I suppose naming new streets after people is okay, but renaming established streets poses some real problems, particularly for those residents with ten thousand return address stickums.  And even the honoree doesn’t always get off.  In Lansing they tried to renamed Grand Avenue after a leader of migrant workers.  If the effort hadn’t failed, the residents could have said they lived on Ceasar Chevaz, once Grand.

I doubt that anyone will ever propose it, but I sure don’t want my name on every corner along some stretch of road.  You never can tell what part of town your name would be in.  Besides, a lifelike statue is more my style.

Do you suppose if and when they name a street after Dr. Kevorkian it will be a dead end?