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Retro HoCo: Columbia's whimsical street names

Columbia is known for its whimsical street names: There’s Liquid Laughter Lane, Crazy Quilt Court and Painted Yellow Gate. They sound like roads you might travel on an acid trip.

But the reason for the unusual names is somewhat prosaic.

“We had maybe 1,000 names to come up with — villages, streets, all that stuff,” Scott Ditch told The Baltimore Sun in 2000. In the 1960s, Ditch headed the street-naming project at the request of Columbia’s visionary developer, James W. Rouse.

“Jim Rouse dumped the problem in my lap for some reason,” Ditch said.

And, by an agreement with the post office, the new Columbia development couldn’t repeat names that were already streets in Baltimore City, Baltimore County or Anne Arundel County.

“People would say something like, ‘What about trees? What about flowers?’” Ditch said. “You name one that isn’t already used somewhere.”

With 1,000 names to come up with in a short period, Ditch and his team hit the books. They took inspiration from works by Longfellow, Dickinson and Faulkner, as well as painters like Whistler and Wyeth.

One street was supposed to be named Satin Wood Drive, after an obscure poem by Amy Lowell. However, due to an error it became “Satan Wood Drive” for decades.

Residents eventually lobbied Howard County to change it.

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