The Sweet Vengeance of Street Names - Atlas Obscura
Join us on an Atlas Obscura Trip in 2019 »

The Sweet Vengeance of Street Names

 None Such Road. (Photo: Flickr/Kool Cats Photography)

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare famously asked. “Revenge,” answers Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.

Oddo fought to preserve Mt. Manresa, a former Jesuit retreat, from being razed and replaced with condominiums. After his efforts failed, he chose to utilize the powers of his office for sweet vengeance, bestowing the development with street names such as Cupidity Drive, Fouberie Lane, and Avidity Place—allusions to greed, trickery, and deception. The developers were unamused, filing a lawsuit to force Oddo to select more innocuous names.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers protested that the street names represented, “an an abuse of the respondent’s discretion,” but state Supreme Court judge Philip Minardo was having none of it. DNAInfo reports that in an initial hearing this past December, Justice Minardo questioned whether the residents would even understand Oddo’s insinuations. “How many people do you think around this community know the meaning of cupidity?” Minardo apparently believes pettiness should be direct, suggesting “Greedy Street” and “Deceitful Lane” might make the intended message more clear.

While the Staten Island spat isn’t quite business-as-usual, Oddo isn’t the first government official to use street names to make a point. In 2008, after the Ontario Municipal Board overruled the councilors in Toronto’s North York community and allowed development of a condo complex, the councilors got the last word by naming the street servicing the project OMB Folly. Similarly, the Iranian government has made an art out of changing street names to register protest. The tradition kicked off in 1981, when the road the British embassy stands on was renamed “Bobby Sands Street;” Bobby Sands was a jailed IRA member who died during a hunger strike that year. Now, the street address of the Saudi Arabian industry is poised to be named Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr Street, after the recently executed Shia cleric.

In 1984, Congress took a page from Tehran’s book, naming the street outside of the Soviet Embassy after dissident Andrei Sakharov. In 2014, a House committee voted to make a pointed statement about the imprisonment of Nobel-Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo by giving the Chinese Embassy a new address: 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza. The measure failed to pass the Senate, perhaps due to fears the Chinese may retaliate by placing the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Snowden Street.

Street naming isn’t always quite so vengeful. Roadtrippers has collected a number of streets named for fandoms, history, or pure humor. It’s reassuring to see our government find some fun in its work.

A block named after German composers in Roslindale, MA. (Author’s image)

This Thursday, Minardo issued his decision and ruled that Oddo’s “historically illuminative” names can stand. No word yet on whether Oddo’s interested in living on “Victory Lane.”