Where There’s a Road, There’s a Way

city road name sign

Our roads, no matter where you live in the country, aren’t randomized – even if they seem disorganized in their naming conventions. There are some cities in the United States notorious for their horrendous roads and the way they were planned. Regardless of the condition of the roads in your city, cities with logical street names become much easier for first responders to navigate.

The prefix of a road is important, but so is the suffix. When you’re looking at the paved surface you’re driving on, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s called a road or a street. Roads, streets, avenues, and courts are actually all different things. A road is a distance between two points – like two different towns. Streets are the interconnecting paved roads where you’ll find businesses and houses lining them within the town. Roads connect towns and cities; streets connect people.

Avenues, on the other hand, are a type of straight road with shrubs or trees on either side. They’re used as signals of architecture and landscaping. A “Way” is a minor street off of a road in a town, typically less traveled. Lanes are roads that typically don’t have a shoulder or are very narrow.

There’s even a difference between a highway and an expressway – or an expressway vs. a freeway. A highway is a divided road intended for travel between cities and towns. A freeway is a highway designed for high-speed traffic, without the distractions of intersections for shopping centers and the like. An Expressway is a divided highway meant for high-speed traffic.

This is how suffixes work together to give information to drivers, but what about the prefixes? A road’s name, also known as an odynym, isn’t necessarily as functional as road suffixes – which means that road names are more than just monikers on pavement. They’re translations of local culture. With geographic landmarks and historical figures often lending their name to roads, the city’s local story is told.

Even though Main Street is the most common road name across the United States, there are many different road names and road naming schemes. For the most part, it’s the developers in the area who name those roads which explains the thematic naming systems often used in newer and quickly developing cities. Real estate developers have the power to name roads – then again, so does the average citizen!


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